Getting around Simpson may not be as easy as people think – especially if they have to get around on four wheels instead of two legs.
For the majority of Simpson students, heavy doors, stairways and uneven sidewalks are minor things on their path to class. But for a few students who are physically challenged, these seemingly small things can create problems.
“For the most part, it’s pretty easy to get around,” freshman Megan Hiemstra said. “Besides the BSC, the other buildings are OK, but the doors get heavy and you can’t always get them open and get in right away. Most of the ramps are OK, though some are built really tight.”
All but one of Simpson’s buildings are handicap accessible. The college must accommodate students of all abilities in order to meet American Disability Association’s standards. Stephanie Krauth, associate dean of students, said Simpson wants all of its students to be able to learn in a comfortable atmosphere.
“We try and foresee where students will be, their travel paths to class, but sometimes there are situations not necessarily thought of,” Krauth said. “Our main doors are OK, but extra doors and fire doors are now being done. There are maybe one or two left.”
With elevators, ramps or ground-level construction a part of buildings and housing on campus, Simpson can accommodate students with almost any disability, from one as minor as a sprained ankle to a documented physical disability.
While Simpson has had low numbers of students with disabilities, when the situation does arise, Facilities Director Jesus Mendez says the college is more than willing to go above and beyond the necessary means.
“Simpson College spends a lot of money on this – every time we install an elevator, a sidewalk or a ramp, we think of ADA,” Mendez said. “Overall, we do a really good job. If we plan for something, we will listen to concerns and fix it right away.”
The addition to Barker Hall was a chance for Simpson to show its pledge to accommodating those with disabilities. Two students who use wheelchairs, including Hiemstra, are housed on first-floor Barker. Work was still being done to accommodate them as of late October.
The second door was made handicap accessible through a push button on Oct. 25, more than halfway through the first semester. Mendez said Simpson was considering making individual rooms handicap-ready through a similar system.
“For their personal room doors, we are looking at commercial options, but that wouldn’t happen overnight,” Mendez said. “We are looking for ideas from Drake and a school in Ohio where they have many more students with disabilities.”
For now, Hiemstra gets by with doors that can accommodate her wheelchair or the helpfulness of others.
“I live on the bottom floor of Barker and it’s not that bad,” Hiemstra said. “Eventually, I’d like to try and live in an apartment.”
Disabled students have several living options at Simpson. With the exception of the theme houses and Detroit, Weinman, Colonial and Washington Apartments, all on-campus housing units can handle wheelchairs or other equipment a handicapped student may have.
“The renovations of SAE, ATO and Worth were made ADA compliant,” Krauth said. “They all have ramps to enter through and the first-floor bathroom on each is handicap-accessible. We not only want to do this, but have to do this.”
Krauth also pointed out that Picken Hall and Kresge Hall are handicap-accessible on the first floor.
Barker and Station Square Apartments have the most living options for disabled students because of elevators that make it possible for them to live anywhere in the building.
When students with disabilities arrive on campus, the first step is a consultation with Todd Little, director of Hawley Learning Center. When a student goes through the formal process of declaring a disability, arrangements are then made with classrooms and travel paths to and from class.
From there, Simpson continues to focus on the student as an individual, rather than taking a broad umbrella-like position on their needs.
While Mendez and Krauth acknowledge Simpson’s imperfections, such as the structure in BSC, both are looking forward to what current renovations and future building projects will mean for all Simpson students.
“The Administration acknowledges the problems in BSC, no questions asked,” Mendez said. “They definitely will be making the new student center all-accessible. It’s not only code, but the moral thing to do.”