Real Campus Accessibility Helps Everyone

I have been on the Libraries Accessibility Committee since I first started at UF, doing work to make the Libraries more accessible in small ways. I’ve helped draft policies to make virtual content more accessible for people with hearing impairments and learning disabilities. I am currently working on tools to make our study spaces more comfortable for our neurodivergent and anxious students. But what I can’t do, what no committee below the top level of admin can do, is make the structural changes that need to happen to make this campus truly accessible. Because as a disabled person myself, UF’s campus is uniquely difficult to navigate sometimes.

Just a few of the things that constantly make working on campus more painful and stressful than it needs to be: First, the campus is incredibly spread out and parking is only accessible around the outer edges of the main campus. What closer parking there is is entirely restricted to high level admin and tenured faculty with specific reserved spots or the most expensive parking permit which is not offered to regular staff or students. This means that, if, for example, you want to go to the main campus library and need to drive but do not have a disabled sticker, you would be forced to walk approximately a quarter mile from the nearest parking garage, or take a scooter. My walk is also about a quarter of a mile, though I am often able to rent scooters between the garage and my office. As walking causes me significant pain this is sub-optimal as you might suppose. Another instance of inaccessibility around parking is that as far as I know only one or two of the parking garages on campus have elevators, despite each having at least three levels. People who have difficulty with stairs (as I do) are often forced to descend several flights of stairs because there is no parking, not even if you have a handicap permit, on the lower floors. Not that the buildings are much better. To my knowledge almost every building on campus has at least one elevator, but they’re not always working. I say almost because my building doesn’t have an elevator at all, it is connected by a bridge to the next building over which has an elevator that is about 60 years old. That elevator has been breaking down since I got here three years ago. They’ve finally this year decided it needs to be replaced because it’s broken every week almost for about two months now. But this realization is quite late, and doesn’t help the library which has a completely inaccessible second floor, forcing disabled patrons who need books from the largest part of our collection to ask a staff member to page items for them and preventing them from browsing the stacks themselves, and important part of any library trip.

All this is just my little corner of a campus that spreads over several square miles and has satellite locations all over the state. I don’t personally know all of the inaccessibilities of campus. We have nods at accessibility, like a Disability Resource Center that can connect students to resources and advocate for accommodations in classrooms and lodging. But you have to be a student (as if there are no disabled employees), and you often need a diagnosis from a doctor for those accommodations. The goal of accessibility should be to make everything easier to access for everyone, not carving out exceptions for just specific people. This carving out of exceptions only style of accessibility leaves a lot of people falling through the cracks, and those it does help are left feeling othered because they cannot fully participate in campus life on their own terms, they’re left asking staff to page items from the second floor of the library for them.

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