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UMBC discusses improvements in accessibility

Stephanie Lazarus, the Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator and Accessibility Manager, and Celso Guitian, Campus Planner, co-ran a presentation about UMBC’s current and future accessibility issues and plans on Feb. 4. This has been an ongoing project since 1978.

The 2018 Facility Master Plan has multiple goals it will work towards, including one that will focus on removing barriers and create a “campus [that] is welcoming and accessible.” Back in 1978, the campus lacked many accessibility options in its design. Today, more options exist but the presenters cited a number of possible deficits. Current ongoing problems include difficult-to-use doorknobs, non-motorized doors, inaccessibility to different floors, unreliable elevators, signage for accessibility routes (and alternatives when elevators are not working) and remaining non-ADA compliant areas, such as bathrooms, drinking fountains, handrails, etc.

Items on the 2018 FMP agenda are creating new parking garages, new and expanded buildings, making the RAC, UMBC stadium, baseball and softball fields more accessible and refurbishing elevators in Sondheim and the AOK Library to improve their reliability.

Recently completed projects and upgrades are numerous; improved accessibility to campus parking and campus residencies, improved sidewalks and other paths, a new Apartment Community Center featuring disability-friendly meeting rooms, common space and laundry, as well as an accessible ramp to Sondheim and the Math/Psychology buildings, accessible West Hill Apartment units and roll-in showers in all accessible Erickson Hall units. As of its completion in Feb. 2018, the UMBC Event Center became a fully compliant building, adding accessible parking on Hilltop Circle and in Lot 28 as well as improved connectivity to the UMBC Stadium.

The UMBC campus now has over 230 ADA-compliant restrooms, 216 of which are in academic, administrative, campus support and non-residential buildings.

The Maryland Department of Disabilities’ Access Maryland Program is a major source of funding when it comes to making the campus more accessible to all. The program funding allows state agencies to remove barriers to accessibility, including public universities. In the past 12 years, UMBC has been allocated a sum of approximately $3,015,800. Downsides of the program are that it does not cover improvements under $2,500, now requires a minimum of 30% funding commitment from the university with its projects and recently gave only $750,000.

A new passenger elevator and bathroom in the Biological Sciences Building would cost a total of $636,000, of which the university would pay $250,000.

Even with financial assistance to help improve the campus for those with disabilities, such upgrades are costly. The inability to simultaneously improve the campus’ many needs results in the prioritization of tasks.

At the end of the presentation, they opened up the floor to attendees with suggestions for making the school more accessible.

One attendee suggested that the Fine Arts Building needed better wayfinding for those with disabilities. This included improved signage, lighting and route symbols to make accessibility routes easier to follow.

Several people talked about notification of elevator outages and fixes. People who are registered with Student Disability Services can be contacted as soon as possible when elevators become unusable for a period of time so that students may plan out alternative routes. Posting signs on elevators when they are out of use, passing along information about it and posting the temporary inconvenience online seems to be prompt; however, those with disabilities who are not registered with SDS are less likely to be made aware of the outage until they come across it.

“You see much clearer all the challenges that are inherent when you look at the accessibility maps that shows the routes and entrances and also pretty much clearly highlights where we still have serious deficiencies on our campus,” remarked Guitian.