By Megan Garland | Contributor
When his disabled mother struggled to navigate her way around campus and his residence hall, the eyes of Old River-Winfree junior Joel Polvado were opened to the world of disabled students on campus. This was the beginning of Polvado’s mission as he entered student government at Baylor.
“Watching my mom try to navigate my residence hall and the rest of campus, the curbs on Seventh Street, was really difficult for her,” Polvado said. “Things that we don’t think about as abled people, people who are disabled struggle with.”
The Office of Access and Learning Accommodation (OALA) is the resource on campus that aids students with disabilities, whether learning or physical. It is also the department in charge of the golf carts that drive injured students to class, according to the OALA webpage on Baylor’s website.
“My part in this has been helping the office learn what the office needs to address,” Polvado said.
One of the issues Polvado brought to OALA’s attention was the low number of golf carts available to drive injured and disabled students. Before fall 2015, OALA had only one golf cart available to students with injuries or disabilities. According to Polvado, the waitlist to establish a rider schedule during this time took four to five weeks. Since then, the OALA offices have raised the number of golf carts from one to seven, providing more availability and services to students, Polvado said.
Not only were students with physical injuries and disabilities affected by this increase in carts available, but so were students looking for work study jobs on campus. With an increase in the number of carts, more jobs became available for students like St. Louis sophomore Jack Watkins.
“I just like meeting new people. I get to hear about all these funky injuries,” Watkins said. “During football season, every week there was a new person or two who hurt themselves running the Line. … It’s always something new.”
Houston sophomore Andi Perkins requested OALA’s services last semester after breaking her fifth metatarsal, a bone in the foot, during her tennis lifetime fitness class.
“My experience with OALA was pretty rocky, because a lot of people come into Baylor with the injury already, whereas mine was pretty sudden,” Perkins said. “It’s a lot more complex than it should be for people who just have little mishaps like I do.”
Perkins said she had to go through a lot of paperwork and documentation to prove she was really injured and to ultimately receive OALA’s help.
“I understand they have to have all of the documentation, but I would definitely make it more accommodating to sudden injuries that happen,” Perkins said.
Candice Coulter, the accessibility coordinator for OALA, said OALA works for students with permanent disabilities and injuries.
Coulter said for students with recently incurred injuries, like Perkins, OALA refers them to the Baylor University Shuttle (B.U.S.). She said most students are familiar with Baylor University Shuttle, but don’t know how to use or that it is a free service that is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. She also said that in emergency situations, students can call the Baylor Police Department for a ride.
“I don’t think Baylor students understand just how many transports a semester we do,” Coulter said. “I think most would be surprised that we do 5,000 transports a semester. That basically means two things. One, we’re meeting a need that wasn’t met before; this is a pretty new service. Two, keeping that in mind, their individual schedule has to be coordinated with 50 other students that have to be in class at the same time. That just takes time, especially because the medical documents are necessary.”
Despite the changes OALA has made in an effort to better serve the students at Baylor, the department still has many changes ahead, according to Polvado. He said the student government recently donated $15,000 to OALA for another golf cart that is wheelchair-accessible. Polvado said it is scheduled to arrive at Baylor on or before May 31 and will be the second wheelchair accessible cart on campus.
One thing both Perkins and Polvado agreed upon was that OALA needs to take steps toward becoming more accommodating.
“If Baylor really wants to embrace it’s call as a Christian community, it should be more than compliant with the ADA. It should be accommodating,” Polvado said.