EDITORIAL: Americans with Disabilities Act compliance should be a priority across campus
The most recent US Census Bureau statistics report there are 1.3 million people living in Michigan with a registered physical or mental disability.
In Isabella County, there are nearly 8,000 people. Due to privacy laws, the number of students, faculty or staff with disabilities at Central Michigan University is much harder to quantify.
We do know that the population is large enough to warrant two separate line items in CMU’s budget. One of these accounts fund upgrades or repair areas on campus that are not up to standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act protects people with disabilities against discrimination by making all buildings reasonably accessible.
The university is upgrading Warriner Hall’s bathrooms to make them compliant with the most recent 1990 ADA guidelines. Warriner Hall was built in 1926. It’s age allows CMU officials to upgrade it to ADA standards when the money becomes available, even though the compliance guidelines were set 26 years ago.
The $788,000 renovations include adding new fixtures, flooring and tile to be more accessible.
We are happy to see the university address this crucial ADA accessibility oversight. Facilities Management put a sizable chunk of its deferred maintenance dollars to the Warriner project, one that actively benefits students, staff and visitors to campus.
CMU should also take stock of other areas on campus that are out of ADA compliance.
We encourage university administration to greenlight renovations of older buildings on campus to comply with ADA standards. We ask that all available capital project and deferred maintenance dollars be diverted to ADA compliance.
We understand that some buildings on CMU’s campus are older than the grandparents of our youngest students attending classes. Buildings like Powers and Warriner have been grandfathered into the ADA guidelines. They are expensive to renovate and require mandatory upgrades only if the entire building is being renovated as a whole.
By law, CMU can take its time to gather funding to tackle projects like Warriner Hall.
We believe that it is wrong to build any new projects without making our campus completely accessible to all people.
The issue of money seems to be the biggest hurdle. Last year, CMU allocated $16,000 to its ADA maintenance fund. That means that CMU’s Facilities Management department had less than $20,000 to use on ADA compliance issues before dipping into its deferred maintenance budget.
Becky Rees and Christine Kinne are American Sign Language (ASL) professors working in the Health Professions building. In 2012, the pair, who have varying degrees of hearing loss, lobbied the university for accommodation when they noticed their offices were not equipped with inaudible flashing fire alarms.
Without flashing alarms, the professors would have no idea that Health Professions was being evacuated for a fire.
The alarms were not immediately installed. Instead, the professors spent the next three years grappling with the university. Facilities Maintenance officials said that budget constraints were a key factor.
CMU officials must make ADA standards and the inclusion of people with disabilities a stated priority. It will help them avoid protracted issues with compliance and safety.
They must treat it with the same nuance and careful consideration when dealing with issues of racial diversity on campus.
Its inclusion promise must embrace every member of the campus community, no matter what they look like, or how they navigate our sprawling campus.