Members of the Emporia State University community were invited to attend an accessibility panel discussion Thursday evening.
The panel answered a variety of questions about how to access support services on campus and better advocate for people with disabilities.
The discussion began with panel presenter Kari Adams, an ESU student, sharing her experiences as a student with a disability. Adams experiences limited mobility due to Multiple Sclerosis. She utilizes crutches and a wheelchair as needed. She plans to graduate in May and continue helping other students with disabilities.
“I will be graduating in May as a first generation college graduate and moving back home to Garden City, where I have accepted a position as an accommodations coordinator to assist and advocate for students with disabilities who are pursuing their education,” Adams said. “My hope is to help them look past their disability and see their potential, as so many people have helped me do.”
Adams said living with a disability is a journey, and there are many things people can do to help make the journey more accessible. She said it is important for people to remember the many miles that come with any venture.
“I’m talking about this big journey that we have, and I’m going to use the acronym MILES,” Kari Adams said. “For ‘M,’ I want to focus on mindfulness; ‘I,’ I want to focus on inclusiveness; ‘L,; I want to focus on longitudinal; ‘E,’ I want to focus on being eager to learn; and ‘S,’ I want to focus on being seen.”
She encouraged attendees to be mindful of their interactions with students with disabilities. She said it is important to make eye contact, speak clearly and use person-first language.
“We ask you to be eager to learn,” Adams said. “There is no one that can teach you better about what a student needs then the student with a disability. They know what works best for them; they have been through it. So we ask you to be open-minded and understanding.”
ESU Director of Student Accessibility and Support Services Stephanie Adams advised there are more than 200 students with disabilities registered to receive services in her department. She said the number is likely much higher because those are just the students who have chosen to disclose their disability. The types of disabilities vary from learning disabilities to physical disabilities to mental illness. Stephanie Adams said the majority of the students registered with her office have mental illnesses.
Rob Gibson, Director of Information and Learning Technologies, provided an overview of apps and other technologies that can be used to make learning more accessible for all students. There are a number of free apps — like Google Transcribe — students can use in class to read an instant transcript of what the professor is saying. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, there are now applications which allow people with sight impairments to scan items with their phone and the application will then tell them what it sees. He encouraged professors to embrace the technology and not discourage students from using mobile devices or other technology in class.
Muffy Walter and Kelly McClendon from Washburn University were also on the panel of presenters. They spoke on equal access through universal design and accommodation versus accessibility. They described accommodation as a reaction to a disability while accessibility is planning or designing a space or presentation in a way that reaches everyone, regardless of disability.
Some examples they provided in regard to physical spaces are making sure building entrances use gently-sloped walkways instead of steps, ensuring classrooms can be easily accessed and students and instructors can safely move around, and using adjustable desks and chairs.
“Adjustable desks and chairs are an example of accessibility rather than accommodation,” Walter said. “Being adjustable is helpful for students using a wheelchair, but also for students with long legs or short legs. It makes the space versatile for everyone.”
Attendees were invited to ask questions. Kari Adams was asked how accessible she felt the campus was as she navigated using crutches or a wheelchair. She said she has experienced only a few problems navigating on campus, and the few problems, like faulty handicap buttons at doorways, were quickly remedied when she notified Stephanie Adams.
“There are a few ramps that meet ADA requirements but are still a little steep for someone using a manual wheelchair,” Kari Adams said. “They do meet the requirements though, they are just a little older, so that is something to keep in mind in the future.”
A question was broached about the number of handicap parking spaces on campus and if staff felt like there were enough. Stephanie Adams advised there are enough spaces available for a campus the size of Emporia State, but there is always a need for more. She recently spoke with police and safety about the number of parking spaces available herself.
“I did speak with Chief (Chris) Hoover and he told me if they have that handicap placard or handicap license plate, that they can park in the metered parking anywhere on campus for free,” Stephanie Adams said. “I didn’t know that until I had the question from the student.”