By: C.A. PRINTUP and JOHN LARSON
A simple trip like one to the bathroom is one often taken for granted by many students. For disabled students and students who have mobility issues, bathroom positions and lack of accessibility can be a major issue.
Two students with different levels of mobility, one in a wheelchair and the other uses a cane, and of different genders, decided to take a look at the different bathrooms around campus and what issues they may pose to those with mobility issues.
Using the bathroom is a common occurrence, but when you have mobility issues whether or not you can use the bathroom is a huge issue that laws such as the Restroom Access Act, also known as the Ally Law, address. If you have a medical condition that effects your bowels, places that normally do not have a “public restroom” must allow them access to it.
In Wiekamp Hall, the small ceramic barriers before one enters the bathroom can prove irritating to pass over for someone in a wheelchair or a cane. The smooth surface makes them difficult to push over and attempting to use momentum feels more perilous than a trip to the bathroom should when one uses a wheelchair. While using a cane, the barriers can become trip hazards especially if you are in a rush.
Northside Hall, the oldest building on campus, has many tight bathrooms, especially the bathrooms outside of the Joshi Performance Center. The handicapped stall is right next to the sinks and getting inside often takes a five-point turn when using a wheelchair, making the main bathrooms on the main floor difficult for wheelchair-based students. Most of the bathrooms in Northside are all right for students who need canes to get around, with most of the handicap stalls being near the door, however the length of steps that students need to take to get to most bathrooms could take a student about 15-30 minutes to get to depending on whether or not another class just let out. An extra layer of planning is required.
The only place where classes are held in the Schurz Library are in the basement. The bathrooms there are inaccessible for someone with a wheelchair. The quarters are simply too tight to maneuver with a wheelchair. One would be forced to take the elevator and go to the ones on the main floor, turn left as they have buttons to open the door. It’s another tight handicapped stall that requires many turns to get into. For someone with a cane, the doors in the library are very heavy, leaving you with only the main floor as again those doors are button activated.
The Education and Arts building has two sets of bathrooms labeled as accessible, but one has no automatic doors. The other set includes buttons, however the men’s bathroom panel is currently broken. Opening them without panels is challenging for both those in a wheelchair and with a cane. This building has a similar distance between bathrooms, in some cases students would need to plan 15-30 minutes.
The Administration building and the Student Activities Center have the most amount of accessibility, however there are very few classes that happen in either building so unless students have clubs there, they may not find themselves in the buildings regularly.
If you’re a mobility limited student who happens to identify outside of the gender binary, your challenges are greater. The only known gender neutral bathrooms, labeled as family bathrooms, are inaccessible and hard to find. These facilities are in the Education and Arts Building, and reportedly in Northside Hall.
To people with mobility issues, every barrier to a restroom access is a major hurdle. It can mean the difference in taking a course online instead of on campus because you know the building it’s held at is inaccessible. It’s the difference between attending all of your classes for the day, or leaving early because the unthinkable occurred.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) may audit institutions. IU South Bend has one on record that could be found from 2003.
According to a document uploaded on HigherEdCompliance.org in 2003, “a student complained that the University was violating Title II and Section 504 with regard to the number and location of parking spaces, selected ramps, one building entrance (to Riverside Hall), and the parking garage.”
It continues that the issues mentioned may be challenging to students with handicaps, but they were technically ADA compliant. The ramp in question to Riverside Hall was deemed inaccessible and thus “University therefore agreed either to relocate programs and services away from Riverside Hall or to alter the front sidewalk and entrance slope to bring that entrance into compliance.”
Riverside Hall has since been renovated and reopened as Vera Z. Dwyer Hall and houses HealthLinc and the campus Health and Wellness Center.
While seeking information about what we found with the on-campus bathrooms to the Director of Disability Services, Anne Drake, accepted an interview and then refused to comment.
Non-mobility limited students can help by leaving the handicap stall open for mobility limited students and by asking students who are having a hard time getting through the door if you can help. Just remember, students with limited mobility know our mobility issues better, but often just having that handicap stall open makes a world of difference.