Disability access evaluated at BYU

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    By Carrie Rowe

    A Supreme Court case involving access for disabled people in Tennessee courthouses raises questions about the accessibility of other buildings, including those on BYU campus.

    A paraplegic man in Tennessee had to crawl up two flights of stairs to attend one court hearing and was arrested after failing to appear at the next. He and five other disabled men and women sued the state of Tennessee, arguing that its courthouses are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

    The Supreme Court took the case this month after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the group did not have the right to sue the state.

    Keith Barney, a professor of Recreation Management and Youth Leadership who uses a wheelchair, said BYU does an acceptable job of providing disability access to its buildings.

    “The places that I go, the things that I do, the access is pretty good,” Barney said. “I just have minor complaints.”

    Gary Hone, an architectural designer in the Planning Department, said BYU is ahead of most universities in meeting accessibility standards.

    “Most of the new buildings that are being built in the last few years are pretty much up to American Disability Association standard, so we”re kind of taking care of the older buildings,” Hone said.

    Paul Byrd, director of the University Accessibility Center, said the main disability access law that applies to BYU is section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

    Though BYU strives to be as proactive as possible in complying with the law, some older parts of campus still require updating.

    The Brimhall Building, now under construction, is being brought to American Disability Association standards.

    Most other recent improvements to campus have been minor, from grinding bumps on sidewalks to widening bathroom stalls.

    “What we”ve done is a little bit each year,” Hone said. “We”ve set money aside, and we”ve fixed things like curb cuts in the sidewalks in various places.”

    Jim Manookin, a design engineer at the Office of Information Technology, said hearing-assistance transmitters have been installed in most classrooms with occupancies of more than 50 people.

    “It”s a radio that transmits whatever the program is in the room — the professor speaking, the music that”s playing, or the TV program,” Manookin said. “The system transmits all the sound through the radio, so people with a hearing impairment can tune in to it and listen.”

    Pocket-sized receivers for these transmissions come with headphones or an ear-bud, a small listening device. Neck loops are also available and allow the transmission to go directly to the student”s hearing aid.

    Barney said he understands that disability access continues to improve.

    “In my opinion, you”re never in compliance,” Barney said. “Don”t get me wrong — what I am saying is that there are so many old buildings, and so many things, that you just aren”t ever going to get there.”

    Barney said a willingness to correct problems when they are noted is more important than trying to fix everything at once.

    He said though he feels the old Richards Building elevator will never run properly, the drinking fountain outside his office was lowered at his request.

    In addition to making physical improvements to campus buildings, clear sidewalks must be maintained during the snow season.

    Roy Peterman, director of grounds at BYU, said disability ramps and routes have first priority during snowstorms. The established accessibility route gets treatment every hour, while regular pathways are shoveled only every four to six hours.

    “I believe that we have established a reasonable and effective plan for the resources that we have,” Peterman said. “Sometimes when it”s snowing, we can”t catch every snowflake and melt it in a microwave before it hits the ground, but certainly with the equipment the administration has allowed us to have, and the resources, we give it every effort.”

    Byrd said people should think more about accessibility. He said he finds it unfortunate that federal laws have to force people to think of others.

    “We would prefer to think of ourselves as being considerate people,” Byrd said. “Particularly as church members, we shouldn”t have to be required and mandated in terms of being considerate.”

    While the University Accessibility Center does not receive many complaints, it attempts to remedy specific issues that are brought to its attention.

    “The most frequent complaint is going to be what everybody else”s most frequent complaint is — parking,” Byrd said. “We wish that we could resolve that problem, but we”re always going to get parking complaints until somehow or another, the university is able to erect a large, multi-story parking facility.”

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