Moving forward with Disability Services

handicapped access
photo illustration by Scott Akerman

By Shawna Paul
With all of the recent construction at Fitchburg State, getting around campus has become quite a challenge. This is a problem that students with physical handicaps have experienced for years, due to the campus’s old buildings, antiquated modes of accessibility, and hilly terrain.
These students rely on Disability Services to help them get to their destinations.
“We counsel students how to get around campus, ‘cause you can’t always get there from here,” says Julie Maki, coordinator of Disability Services.
For students who use wheelchairs, the most accessible classrooms are in Thompson and McKay, Maki says, although scheduling their classes in those buildings can be another challenge, as some professors try to move the classes back to accommodate their own schedules. “It upsets them until they see the student,” Maki says. “They [professors] feel slighted until they realize why.”
Campus accessibility is getting better, according to Maki. “I only had to move three classes this semester,” Maki said, while 12 years ago, “I had to move 30 classes a semester.”
She also said that the new elevator under construction in Hammond will help handicapped students access the building. The new science building will be completely accessible as well, she said.
Maki said that FSU has sought outside help in becoming more accessible, as well. A few years ago, she said, a consultant was brought in to assess what the school could do to attain greater accessibility. As a result, plans were made to get elevators in Miller and Percival.
Percival is technically deemed as accessible, she said, because when the chairlifts and exterior elevator were installed, they were up to code. But since the exterior elevator only makes one class on the first floor accessible, coupled with the fact that it has a tendency to freeze up and not work, it has since become policy to move classes with handicapped students elsewhere.
Specific safety measures are in place to help handicapped students, as well. “Campus Police have a piece of equipment that can evacuate people in wheelchairs,” Maki explained.
With the cost of installing an elevator topping $500,000, and with the long process that goes into renovations, students at Fitchburg State may have to make do with what they have for the time being. Maki is proud of the way her office excels in helping students do just that.
Disability Services is located on the third floor in the Hammond building. And yes, there is an elevator that can get you there.