Southern makes strides to better accommodate those with physical limitations

The ongoing construction of the new Wright Hall elevator is part of Southern Adventist University’s initiative to meet the needs of those with physical limitations. 

Southern’s Corporate Architect Fred Turner said various buildings and locations across campus have already received changes, or will in the future, to further Southern’s strides towards better accommodation for those with physical limitations.

According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, institutions that receive federal funding must be in compliance with Section 504, which states that no institution can discriminate against those with disabilities. Southern receives federal funding through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is a vehicle by which students receive government-funded financial aid.

 Title III Section 1.5000 of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), exempts religious entities from the ADA requirements. Although Southern – a Seventh-day Adventist organization – may in some ways qualify for exemption, the university is still under Section 504 and follows federal guidelines to accommodate for individuals with physical limitations, according to Turner. 

“Anytime we’re dealing with new facilities or we renovate, we try our best to accommodate the best we can with existing conditions,” said Turner.

Due to Southern’s geographical location, the landscape has presented challenges. According to Turner, Landscape Services Director Marc Antone is always conscious of that. 

“We’re always trying to think of ways to connect the sidewalks outside,” Turner said. “Anytime we connect sidewalks, we always try to meet the slope to accommodate a wheelchair.” 

According to Turner, the original design for the Bietz Center was going to be similar to McKee Library. 

“But then administration decided they wanted to flush with the Promenade level. … So, somebody on the Promenade can go right into the building and get on the elevator and go up to the other floors,” Turner said. 

According to Southern’s October 2019 QuickNotes, the new elevator construction will allow for students to get from the second floor to the fourth floor of Wright Hall. Along with this a new bridge will also be built, providing exterior access directly to the Dining Hall floor from Cafeteria Drive.

Plans for these additions were originally dated back to the mid-90s, but were put on hold until recently because the funds became available through donors, resulting in the elevator becoming a top priority, according to Turner. 

According to Turner, some of the accommodations Southern has for future plans include adding an elevator in Thatcher Hall by extending the lobby and adding an elevator shaft, as well as adding more handicap-accessible restroom stalls in multiple buildings. 

“Anybody who is in a wheelchair should be able to access any building here on campus eventually,” Turner said. 

As stated in Southern’s 2019-2020 Undergraduate Catalog, “Southern is in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973) and is dedicated to the elimination of architectural and prejudicial barriers which prevent any qualified person from attending. Southern has established [Disability Support Services] DSS to provide academic disability services according to the provisions of applicable disability law.”

According to DSS Coordinator Mariella Pechero, the mission of DSS is to facilitate equal access to Southern’s learning community.

“[Those with physical limitations] should be able to enjoy all the spaces just as you and I do,” Turner said.

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