Newly renovated Wheeler Hall inaccessible to students with disabilities

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Anissa Nishioka/Staff

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Update 08/30/2017: This article has been updated with additional information from the campus administration.

With the new school semester already underway, some students in the Disabled Students Program, or DSP, have been unable to get to their classes in Wheeler Hall.

On Wednesday, DSP’s campus access specialist Ben Perez informed students in the program that Wheeler Hall’s main elevator would not be available until the end of September. The main elevator currently under construction is intended to be accessible to students with disabilities, such as those with mobility disabilities.

Two of the three preexisting elevators were taken out to build one new elevator to serve the entire building, the construction of which will not be finished until September 29, leaving only a service elevator that is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA.

Although operational, the service elevator is inaccessible to students with mobility disabilities because its buttons are “hard to reach” for some DSP students, according to DSP director Karen Nielson. Nielson added that the DSP has already connected with several students who were affected by the elevator construction, moving their classes out of Wheeler Hall to other locations on campus.

According to campus spokesperson Roqua Montez, the campus real estate office along with the fire marshal and other departments using Wheeler Hall decided to open the building before construction on the ADA compliant elevator was completed in order to be available for classes.

Perez stated that he could not disclose the exact number of DSP students affected by the lack of ADA-compliant elevators, but said that Wheeler has “a lot of classrooms.” He added that the campus had been willing to provide support and create solutions for students who needed help to get to classes scheduled in Wheeler.

Perez noted that doing construction on time is “difficult,” speculating that a lack of experience in identifying ADA code-compliant structures could also have contributed to the delay in providing an accessible elevator.

“A construction or design person is going to look at an elevator and say, ‘Sure, the elevator isn’t operational, but we have another elevator,’ ” Perez said. “But they won’t be able to tell that it’s not compliant. I would be able to tell.”

According to Montez, however, all campus constructions have to be reviewed and approved by the Division of the State to ensure ADA building code compliance before being completed. Additionally, throughout construction, the campus building official has to monitor projects for ADA compliance.

Lisa Albertson, a campus undergraduate social welfare student and a member of the Berkeley Disabled Students group, said she has yet to see the campus administration involve the disabled community in all decisions directly affecting them.

According to Albertson, when the elevators in one of her class’s buildings broke down in 2009, her class was immediately moved to Dwinelle Hall only after her professor pushed campus administration.

Montez stated in an email that in campus situations with unusual access barriers, campus real estate works with a coordinator from DSP’s Campus Access Services and an architectural access manager from the Office of Disability Compliance. These people are meant to “represent the disabled community” in providing feedback on projects, according to Montez, and have to communicate any issues affecting the disabled community.

Consulting with more members of the disabled community, Albertson said, could prevent accessibility barriers from occurring and create better contingency plans if they do.

“If you’re going to be doing something directly impacting students or faculty with disabilities, wouldn’t you want to have their input?” Albertson said.

Ashley Wong is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.