Updated: Dec 10, 2022
By Leighah Beausoleil
All too often, Sabrina Beach, ’21, a volunteer at the Rams Resource Center, said she finds herself unable to enter buildings on campus, have a drink in the Dining Commons, or cross the street due to accessibility issues at Framingham State.
In the Dining Commons, Beach, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at two months old, said she struggles because straws are not available, which makes drinking a beverage impossible.
“I understand the concern,” she said, referring to the environmental movements such as “Save the Turtles” that have encouraged the removal of straws in public establishments.
She said, however, “People need to drink, and sometimes it is impossible for someone to drink without a straw. I carry straws, but sometimes I forget to refill them and I worry if I’m not with my friends, I won’t be able to get a drink.”
Beach uses an electric wheelchair, and as a result of faulty handicap push buttons and heavy doors, will sometimes be locked outside of buildings.
She said when she visits the Athletic Center, the doors will sometimes close too quickly and will slam shut.
She added the buttons that malfunction the most are in Hemenway Hall, but the button for the door to the Henry Whittemore Library is often stuck.
Additionally, Beach said there is a button to enter Sandella’s, but not one to exit.
Maureen Fowler, environmental health and safety coordinator, said the Facilities Department keeps a list of all the locations on campus that have push buttons and the ones that don’t.
“Over the last few years, we've added a lot more and then we go around regularly and make sure they work. And if they don’t, we get them fixed,” Fowler said. “And then if they fail, we hope someone tells us if they fail if we're not the ones finding it.”
She said no one from her department is assigned the task of testing these buttons, and there is no set schedule for when they are tested. “When our people are around, we push buttons to make sure they work.”
LaDonna Bridges, dean of Student Success and director of CASA, discussed a concern she had with the electronic doors to Hemenway Labs. When visiting one day, she decided to test the button for the doors facing Dwight Hall. However, when she did, the first door opened, but the second did not. When she hit the button as if she were leaving, both doors opened.
“So why is that?” she asked. “Imagine if you're stuck in that vestibule unable to open the door.”
Referring to push buttons, she added, “It took forever to get ours in CASA.”
Bridges said she advocated for years to have a push button installed, and since then, one has been, but another door leading into the building does not have one, so there is a “doorbell with a placard that says, ‘Please ring for assistance.’”
Bridges said when it comes to knowing which doors are accessible on campus, the people who have disabilities and use them every day are familiar with where to go and what they need to do. However, the people who have injuries that temporarily affect their ability to open doors or use stairs will have a harder time navigating campus in an accessible way.
Beach said the University was able to provide her with a tour when she first attended that specifically pointed out the accessible routes on campus.
The Framingham State website features a map with the option to see where accessible parking, elevators, and wheelchair-accessible places are.
However, the map does not clarify how it defines wheelchair-accessible locations. For example, the front entrance of O’Connor Hall is labeled as such, and does have a ramp to its doors, but there is no handicap push button. Additionally, Beach said the doors are too heavy to open herself.
She added “ironically,” the same can be said for the doors to the Center for Inclusive Excellence.
Therefore, Beach said if she wants to go inside of O’Connor Hall, someone needs to open the door for her or she’ll need to enter through the back of the building, where a push button is located.
Beach added this electronic door at O’Connor Hall blocks the ramp when it opens and she has to wait for the door to close in order to leave. However, sometimes the door doesn’t close and she needs to push it in order for it to do so.
Fowler said the University follows the regulations set by the Architectural Accessibility Board (AAB), which does not require doors to have a handicap push button as long as they are “easy enough to open.” This means the door has to be under a certain weight and height.
She said installing a push button on any door that does not already have one will come at a cost, and because there is a “want” for them on campus, Facilities has been trying to budget one to two installments a year.
Fowler added earlier in the semester, the push button on Miles Bibb Hall was not working and her department had to wait a while before the parts needed to fix it came in due to supply chain issues. Facilities staff were able to begin working on the electronic door a few weeks later on Nov. 4.
Regarding the push buttons, Bridges said, “It's incredibly expensive, so I say keep advocating. Keep bringing it up. Keep adding it to the list.”
Mark Dempsey, ADA coordinator for the city of Framingham, said, “The state has been pushing to have them [handicap push buttons] as part of the building code for over 10 years.”
However, he said, “It's stuck.”
ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which guarantees civil rights for individuals with disabilities in order to prevent and guard against discrimination.
Beach said not only does she have to deal with these accessibility issues, but people’s attitudes toward her as well.
“Sometimes, people will cross my personal boundaries because they feel like I need help even when I haven’t asked for help,” she said. “And sometimes, people will treat me like a kid,” especially at Sandella’s and the Rams’ Den Grille.
Beach added for her, “The biggest thing is to treat people with different abilities with respect and not younger than they are.”
Bridges said when people are treated that way, it “doesn't feel inclusive.”
She added that as an educational institution, people should approach those behaviors from an advocacy and informational standpoint.
She emphasized the importance of showing “grace” and being respectful to everyone.
Bridges shared a story of when she was frustrated with a student who was late to a meeting with her at the Danforth Art Museum.
“It was a day that was pouring rain,” she said. “Then I saw them, and I was like, ‘I have nothing to complain about.’ Like here they are in this chair having to cover everything with plastic and then show up to class soaking wet - even with a best effort not to be.
“And that's what we need to remember - that grace,” Bridges added.
She said people should try to imagine what it is like for a door not to work, to get stuck outside of a building in the rain, or have to go all the way around a building just to use an elevator.
Bridges said another concern she has had is the reliability of elevators. A few years ago, classes had to be moved out of the library because the elevator was “down forever” and those classrooms were not accessible.
Bridges added the broken elevator was “no one’s fault,” and “everybody was seeking to get the parts … to fix it.”
In general, she said it is important to acknowledge the Framingham State campus as whole can be inaccessible for some individuals with disabilities.
“I think Facilities does an amazing job of trying to clear paths, and all of that,” Bridges said. However, “ just from a geographic standpoint, our campus is tough, and there's a lot we can't do anything about.”
Dempsey, who recently came into the position as city of Framingham’s ADA coordinator, said he is passionate about his work because of his rheumatoid arthritis.
He said the day after Christmas in 1983, he woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. Since then, he has had to undergo numerous surgeries, including hip and knee replacements.
Dempsey said he had not been to the Framingham State campus in years, but used to visit often to work with former Disabilities Service Coordinator Dennis Polselli, now the chair of the Fall River Disability Commission.
Initially starting out working in Residence Life, Polselli, who is blind, transitioned into the disabilities services position in 1994. Polselli said this position involved all aspects of accessibility on campus, including physical.
The president at the time, Paul Weller, had asked Polselli to establish this department on campus, which did not exist prior. There was an assistant ADA coordinator position, but the job responsibilities were limited, according to Polselli.
In his role as disability services coordinator, Polselli worked with colleagues to create a Disability Services Handbook for students with disabilities. He said some of his work also centered on supporting the rising number of deaf students who were attending FSU during that time period.
Polselli also worked with faculty and staff to address accessibility issues, including working with University Police regarding parking and with Facilities about physical accessibility.
During his time at FSU, Polselli said FSU worked with the Institute on Human Centered Design in Boston. “They did a complete self evaluation and transition plan for FSU,” he said.
Polselli said a lot of his work was advocacy.
“I don't want to get into too much of the battles that I was fighting because a lot of it was getting the McCarthy Center - making sure that that was accessible to students with disabilities and usable because the restrooms weren't at the time,” Polselli said.
He said one of the difficulties he faced was that his office was on the top floor of the McCarthy Center and the elevator would often break down, which was an issue because he wanted to employ students with disabilities, including those who used wheelchairs and students with hidden disabilities. As a result, he said he would often bring down all the paperwork he needed to what was then known as the “Pub,” so he could meet with those students.
The McCarthy Center would not be renovated until 2006, which addressed some of the accessibility concerns, he said. “They weren't the easiest years - I have to be honest about that.”
Physical accessibility continues to be a prevalent concern at FSU. Beach said the Maynard Road sidewalk does not have a curb cut that would allow her to cross Adams Road despite there being a crosswalk there.
Student Trustee McKenzie Ward said concerns with curbs cuts have been a topic of discussion for SGA since their Campus Safety Walk this past March. Beach joined them for this overview of campus to provide insight on accessibility issues.
Ward said Beach attending the Safety Walk made the accessibility concerns more apparent as the path for the walk had to be adjusted due to many places on campus not being accessible for her.
Fowler said she has not heard of any concerns regarding curb cuts. “It's city streets, so if there's a problem there, please bring it to our attention, because I don't know where there's a problem. But the city owns the streets and they maintain the curb cuts and traction devices.”
Dempsey came to campus Nov. 3 to check out the accessibility concerns on campus.
Walking down Maynard Road, Dempsey pointed out how although there is a curb cut for crossing Church Street, the crack in it makes it dangerous.
He said, “If you are in a wheelchair and you hit this, you’re coming out of it [the wheelchair],” adding, “This whole thing should be covered up.”
Dempsey then pointed out how the sidewalk entering Maynard Parking Lot does have a curb cut, but as it wraps around toward the back of West Hall, the sidewalk suddenly stops with no way off for wheelchair users except to turn around, go back to the initial cut, and simply travel in the parking lot.
“They should have had curb cuts,” he said, adding there is “no excuse” given the sidewalk was added after ADA laws were already in effect.
He said he will add these curbs to his list, and though no changes are possible this year, he will sort out whose property it is and eventually, it will be addressed.
Dempsey added Framingham’s Department of Public Works is “very responsive,” and will be completing approximately 60-70 curb cuts and four miles of sidewalk this year.
There are four 15-minute parking spaces in front of West Hall. However, one of the parking spaces blocks a curb cut that would allow a wheelchair user to get on and off the sidewalk at the entrance of the residence hall.
Dempsey said, “That makes no sense.”
He said it should be a “simple fix” and the school should just swap the 15-minute parking sign with a no parking sign.
During SGA’s Nov. 15 Campus Safety Walk, concerns over this parking space were shared with administrators. Within the days that followed, the 15-minute parking sign for that space was removed and some lines were painted on the ground.
Ward said Danny Giard, executive director of Facilities, “has been so responsive and fast-acting on addressing those concerns.”
However, people continue to park in the space blocking the curb cut.
At the walk, Erin Gemme, SGA diversity and inclusion officer, brought up a concern with the stairs leading up from State Street toward Crocker, Peirce, and Horace Mann halls. The yellow lines that once highlighted the edge of each step were almost completely faded.
Gemme said this is an accessibility issue because their friend has low depth perception, which affects the way a person’s eyes perceive the distance between objects, and therefore, they have trouble using the stairs.
They added these lines are an example of Universal Design as they could be helpful for everyone when it is rainy and dark.
The following day, the steps were painted by the Facilities staff.
“It was super fast,” Gemme said. “I was very excited.
“I felt accomplished because I felt like they actually were listening to us,” they said, regarding the administrators who attended the walk.
They added being a part of this change was “satisfying,” and they hope one day, these lines will be on all staircases on campus.
This semester, Gemme also worked with Library Dean Millie González to add signs providing a warning to hearing device users that when they pass through the library’s book sensors at its entrance, a painful, high-pitched sound may be heard.
Gemme said one of their friends walked through these sensors and “it hurt them so badly that they literally fell to the ground because that's all that you can hear.”
Signs are now posted for patrons entering and exiting the library.
SGA has established an Ad Hoc Accessibility Committee for this academic year, which is led by Gemme.
This committee aims to “raise awareness because the first step to change is being aware of what needs to be changed,” they said, adding once these issues are acknowledged, the committee can begin to work toward solutions.
The committee will begin by doing an accessibility overview of campus in order to identify any issues.
Ward said, “I have worked with Ann McDonald [chief of staff and general counsel] to begin looking for a company to come out and do an audit of campus so we can locate all the areas we need to fix because of accessibility issues.”
Fowler said when it comes to accessibility concerns on campus, students can speak with Bridges for academics and to Residence Life for anything related to the residence halls. However, any concerns with physical accessibility in other parts of campus are generally reported to Facilities - there is no point person.
During the Nov. 15 Safety Walk, Ward asked who the current ADA coordinator is for Framingham State.
Dale Hamel, executive vice president, confirmed there is currently no one performing this role, but concerns can be brought to Fowler or Human Resources.
Kim Dexter, assistant vice president of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity, said “There are a number of folks who have responsibilities aligned with the ADA. I have oversight within my office for employee workplace accommodations and administration of the Equal Opportunity Plan, which includes formal complaint processes if someone alleges discrimination or harassment on the basis of disability, including denial of reasonable accommodations.
“CASA is responsible for student accommodations, and there are many folks involved in infrastructure-related accessibility,” she added.
Polselli said he read in The Gatepost’s coverage of the safety walk that there was no ADA coordinator position.
Though the title “ADA coordinator” was not used, Polselli said his role fulfilled the duties of what a coordinator’s position would entail. However, when he retired, no one replaced him.
“I'm never speaking on behalf of the University now because I'm not employed there anymore, but in the disability community, we feel that there should be a full-time ADA coordinator,” he said. “Preferably, it should be somebody with a disability. I mean, because of the day-to-day experiences that we have with our disability, whether it's blindness or whether it's a wheelchair user or hidden disabilities or deaf and hard of hearing.”
Polselli alleged colleges are required by law to have someone serving in this position.
He said, “There should be a separation between a service provider and the legal requirements of the ADA because that really requires a little more background knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act, its changes, and the legal requirements.”
Dempsey said Framingham State has “come a long way in the 20 plus years I've been in this community. They've done good work.”
He added he encourages students with disabilities to get involved on campus, adding their input is “very valuable.”
Dempsey said the city of Framingham completes an ADA report every three years, and the results are kept on file in order to address issues.
Fowler said she has never personally been a part of an accessibility evaluation on campus. “We never have because no one's ever said, ‘You must report on this.’”
She added prior to AAB, the University conducted a survey of ADA compliance on campus and worked to address the issues that were discovered.
“I will just say, I have compassion because when I was a student in college, I broke my leg in the winter,” Fowler said. “So I've always been a compassionate, concerned person to make sure that students can get around whenever they need to.”
Fowler said when a “major renovation” of a building takes place, the accessibility board will come to advise on the ADA aspects of the construction.
If the money spent on the renovation exceeds a certain amount, accessibility issues must be addressed, she said.
When Dwight Hall was renovated, “We put those different ramps in from both sides to get to Dwight Hall because we spent money in that building that triggered making it accessible,” Fowler said.
She said since she was interviewed on Oct. 19 by The Gatepost (for this article), she has “received a request for an update from the last report from 2014. So, we are working with the consultant and updating that report.”
Prior to this request, Fowler said the University had not “received information from consultants about our compliance with ADA … for years.”
McDonald said when it comes to ADA compliance at Framingham State for physical accessibility, the law states the accommodations made need to be “reasonable.”
As an example, she said in order to make the Lincoln Memorial accessible, a ramp would not have been placed in front of the stairs, but rather on the side or even the back if that gave closer access to parking.
However, no matter what choice is made, “you must provide that access in some way,” she said, adding this is the case when it comes to public buildings, and most of those accessibility modifications are not made unless a renovation triggers them.
“Under the law, Commonwealth law, when you touch a building, and I'm using that word intentionally, when you modify a building up to a certain extent, it then triggers a requirement for accessibility,” McDonald said.
She added that is just the physical component, but within those parameters, there are code requirements that need to be met.
As an example, she described how at her past institution, a ramp was built at its theater, but was made of the wrong material and at the wrong elevation. The ramp had to be rebuilt and was once again constructed at the wrong elevation, and the architects had to repour the concrete in order for it to be compliant.
“So even when you make those accommodations of physical locations and buildings, those accommodations need to meet a particular code to afford individuals the right kind of access - not just any access, but the right kind of access,” McDonald said.
Ward said, “These issues are important to address because I believe that each one of our students deserves to be able to navigate the entirety of campus without any hindrances along the way. Until then, we are not a truly inclusive campus.”
[Editor’s Note: McKenzie Ward is Opinions Editor for The Gatepost.]