There are several wheelchair accessibility issues on Florida Southern College’s campus. However the school is aware of this and doing the best it can to combat these issues and accommodate handicapped students as much as possible.
“We’re always pursuing the opportunity to make this campus as accessible and as easy to navigate as possible,” Marcie Pospichal, the Associate Vice President of Student Support, said.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed FSC’s campus a long time ago and its layout can make it challenging for special needs students who use motorized wheelchairs or scooters.
The campus can be steep at points, and the general layout includes narrow, bumpy sidewalks and buildings surrounded by an excessive amount of stairs. This makes it hard for handicapped students to navigate their way around campus.
“Because of the way the campus is built, there is a grade,” Pospichal said. “That doesn’t seem to be a problem for people in scooters, but for people who use manually powered wheelchairs, it can be more challenging, but not impossible.”
Generally, it takes the average student five minutes or less to get to class on foot. Some people may assume that those students using scooters or manually powered wheelchairs can get to class in an even shorter amount of time.
However this is a misconception.
“I can’t just wake up at the last minute on the first day of classes,” Jess Raigosa, junior, said. “I have to carefully plan out my route so I don’t get stressed out about where I’m going.”
Some buildings on campus are more difficult to access than others. For example, handicapped students cannot get into the Communications building through the front entrance; they have to use a back route.
The Danforth Chapel and president’s office are completely inaccessible, and not all buildings have accessible elevators. It is very difficult to get upstairs in the Polk Science building.
“The software they use is only accessible upstairs in Polk Science for one of the classes I had to take,” Raigosa said. “They have a lift I can use, but it’s not an actual elevator so I don’t feel safe using it.”
Because of this obstacle, Raigosa ended up having to take the class online over the summer.
Freshman Stephanie Aubertin ran into this issue in Polk Science as well when she was helping her friend who needed help getting around.
“All you have is a chair lift to get to the math department, which is sketchy,” Aubertin said. “And then all over campus there are tons of hills, which people won’t be able to get up in a wheelchair without friends to help, unless it’s automatic.”
Obstacles such as these can make giving tours to handicapped people challenging. If someone on a campus tour is wheelchair-bound, they are restricted to only touring the places on campus that are easily accessible, or, if possible, they are taken on a golf-cart tour.
“The easiest places to get to are places that the whole school has to get to, like Branscomb or the student Hub,” Lizz Miles, Southern Ambassador, said. “The hardest places are things on the fringe of campus, like Polk Science or around the Water Dome/library.”
According to Miles, the main problem with accessibility is that the elevators or ramps are out of the way to get to certain buildings and this makes giving regular, walking tours to those in wheelchairs or scooters difficult.
So while FSC’s campus is not impossible to navigate in a wheelchair or scooter, there is definitely some room for improvement.
“Some time in the near future, I would love to see the sidewalk by the Water Dome be repaved or smoothed out so that there is easier access to the other side of campus,” Raigosa said.
Pospichal also hopes for some positive changes to be brought about in the future to make the campus more accessible.
“Automatic doors, access to Danforth Chapel, and easier, less cumbersome access to the president’s office are the key things we can be doing, as well as making sure people know whether they have a mobility challenge or not,” Pospichal said.
Photo by Shannah Bober
E/N: Jessenia Raigosa, who is quoted in this article, is a writer for The Southern.