By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer
Baylor graduate Kristen Dehaven said at first, she didn’t notice any issues with the accessibility of the buildings on campus. But, as her progressive genetic condition reduced her mobility, she said she began encountering many obstacles impeding her from getting around campus.
Before she graduated at the end of last semester, Dehaven posted several TikToks highlighting the issues she encountered on campus, with one of the TikToks going viral with 4.4 million views and over 750,000 likes.
Dehaven said some of the issues she experienced include doors at the top of wheelchair ramps being locked, elevators frequently breaking down with repairs taking long amounts of time to complete, maintenance vehicles being parked in disabled parking spots and sidewalks being uneven and cracked, making them difficult to navigate in a wheelchair.
Dehaven said she made the TikTok in order to start a conversation and highlight things many people don’t realize are issues on campus.
“It’s this daily struggle that no one else understands,” Dehaven said. “When you are able-bodied, a lot of time you won’t realize those [Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)] violations unless someone points them out to you, because you can easily step over a curb, walk over the grass or walk across the street. You don’t have to go somewhere where the ramp is. You don’t have to follow all of those guidelines.”
Dehaven said the general response from TikTok has been positive and supportive. After posting the video, Dehaven said she received an email from the Office of Access and Learning Accommodation (OALA) about accommodations, but the issues she encountered were outside the scope of OALA’s office.
Dehaven said she has had no contact with the administration regarding her complaints. She said the many issues she encountered frustrated her, and she felt Baylor administration was ignoring the issue.
“They know that they have disabled students on campus, and by taking the action of inactivity, they are showing that they don’t prioritize their disabled students,” Dehaven said. “They need to address the physical accessibility issues on campus. I also think that they need to change their OALA policy from requiring diagnosis to requiring disability, because we live in a country where health care is privatized. Diagnoses are a privilege for those who can afford to navigate the health care system and can stick it out in the system for long enough to obtain a diagnosis.”
Katy freshman Brenna Colihan is the director of accessibility in Student Government, a new position created last semester intended to ensure equitable accessibility on campus.
Colihan said many of the issues of buildings being inaccessible lie in the number of historical buildings at Baylor that were built before the ADA became law in 1990. According to New Mobility magazine, this is an issue prevalent on many college campuses around the country.
Colihan said Baylor has been working with the facilities department in order to get every building on campus up to date.
“They’re working with the facilities department to go through and create blueprints for all of the different accessibility needs for each building,” Colihan said. “They’re working with some people who are knowledgeable in the disability world and on disability law to find out what needs to be done to make these buildings compliant with the federal law.”
Colihan said disability is a broad term, as different people will require different accommodations for their disability. She encouraged any students experiencing difficulties with accessibility or accommodation to reach out to the OALA office or to email her at email@example.com or go to her Instagram account, where she has a survey for students to give their input about accessibility on campus.
Any students who would like to reach out to the Lariat about accessibility issues they have experienced can do so by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colihan said she feels more awareness and sensitivity toward disability issues is needed on college campuses.
“People just need to be more sensitive and to take the time to sit down and listen to disabled people’s stories and hear they are people too,” Colihan said. “Just because they get extra time on a test or they have to have a ramp to get up to where they’re going doesn’t make them any less or different from you. They’re still here trying to get their education, just like everybody else.”