Disabled students face obstacles on campus

by Beacon Staff • November 30, 2005

Amanda Martins, a freshman audio/radio major who has been blind since she was 10 months old, lives in the Little Building. Fortunately for Martins, the Little Building was her first choice-because it is currently the only Emerson dormitory that can safely accommodate students with special needs, Director of Learning Assistance Anthony Bashir said.

While the Little Building complies with standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the buildings on Emerson's west campus do not, Bashir said.

The structures, many of which have stairways at the entrances, do not meet ADA standards. Since the passage of the act in 1990, Facilities Management cannot approve any newly constructed buildings unless they have access for all disabled people, Bashir said.

Although most of the facilities on-campus were built long before this act was passed, modifications have been made to all buildings on east campus in order to make them wheelchair accessible, Bashir said.

Structures have been renovated to include ramps where necessary as well as elevators large enough to accommodate wheelchairs, Bashir said.

The Little Building also has suites specifically designed for students with disabilities, which have wider doorways and enough room for wheelchair turnaround.

This is not the case in other dorms because the ADA does not mandate that buildings constructed prior to 1990 comply with the regulations.

"The college was not legally required to make the Back Bay buildings fully accessible because they have not undergone extensive renovation," Director of Facilities Management Neal Lespasio wrote in an e-mail interview.

He said all Theatre District properties are currently accessible to students with special needs and when the college's move to the Theatre District is completed in the fall, all campus facilities will be in compliance with federal, state and local regulations regarding access for disabled people.

In addition to making sure special needs students have appropriate housing, Bashir said his department makes efforts to help these students adjust to Emerson.

Martins said she was provided with mobility and orientation training when she arrived on campus this fall.

A representative from New York's Agency for the Blind aided Martins, a New York native, and helped her become acquainted with campus-escorting her to classes and various on-campus facilities, Bashir said.

Accommodations have also been made for Martins in the classroom. She uses a Personal Data Assistant for the blind that allows her to type in Braille.

"We get books on tape, professors provide Braille translations and she does a lot of work with software," Bashir said.

Although Martins attends classes and navigates campus on her own, her roommate, Lexi Sennet, a freshman broadcast journalism major, feels that the orientation and mobility training could have been more extensive.

"They could have been more comprehensive," she said. "They could have addressed more than just the campus and its immediate surroundings. I see blind people on the T and I think they should have given Amanda that [off-campus] training too."

In addition to Martins, there are three other students with physical disabilities who currently attend Emerson, none of whom use wheelchairs, Bashir said.

He said those three students have moved off campus, not because of lack of facilities but "for the same reason anyone else in the college would."

Despite some of the college's limitations, Martins said she thinks that Emerson is the right place for her.

"This is the right place," Martins said. "Students have been helpful and the professors are very accommodating as well. If I need help, they'll give it."