President Sean Decatur said 90 percent of Kenyon’s classrooms will be accessible by 2023, after the Master Plan is completed. Although many administrators see this as a positive change, the lengthy timeline of the project highlights the frustration of community members seeking a more accessible campus.
The primary factors that restrict accessibility at Kenyon are stairs, width of hallways and width of doors, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which outlines minimum standards for accessible design. Seventy-one percent of Kenyon’s classrooms are currently accessible, and most of the College’s inaccessible spaces are in Ascension Hall, Ralston House, Palme House, Treleaven House, Sunset Cottage and the houses along College Park Road. After Ascension is renovated, which Decatur and Kohlman said will be completed by 2022 or 2023, the remaining 10 percent of inaccessible classrooms will be located in these older houses.
Kohlman defined accessibility as the ability of anyone to physically access classrooms, restrooms and other resources.
Erin Salva, director of Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS), said renovations should focus on universal accessibility, which includes full accessibility to programs within physical spaces.
For Justin Martin ’19, making the campus more inclusive is not just about expanding physical accessibilities. “There is very little use making physical room for disabled people if you are not part of a culture that has mental room for disabled people,” Martin, who has cerebral palsy, said. He hopes that expanding academic accessibility is paired with an influx of disabled applicants and a focus on expanding accessibility in extracurricular activities.
Kohlman said the new buildings in the West Quad — which will be home to the social sciences and new admissions offices — will be intentionally accessible. He said this will go beyond the bare-minimum accessibility found in rooms like Higley Auditorium, with restricted spaces that are accessible to non-able bodied students only at the top and bottom of the room.
“That 90 percent accessibility number means that the whole space is accessible … so in Ascension, part of the plan for Ascension is not just putting elevators to get people up and down but also to get accessible services that students need on the various floors,” Kohlman said, specifically referencing the fact that there are only restrooms on the basement floor and the second floor.
As for how the College decides when and where it is going to expand accessibility, Kohlman said that is determined by the number of people it impacts overall. After Ascension, the most pressing inaccessible classroom is in Palme.
Making academic spaces accessible does not address the other side of college life: extracurriculars and social life, Martin said. If dorm life is important to a disabled prospective student, that student will not come to Kenyon due to residential halls’ inaccessibility.
“Disabled students are … routinely asked to choose between success and happiness, between a sense of belonging and a sense of accomplishment,” he said, “but don’t all people want both of those things?”
Salva echoed that the administration was not as proactive as they could be on the issue of residence halls.
“Perhaps there’s a sense that we’ve got these newer upper class residences just coming along that are accessible,” she said of the North Campus Apartments in reference to the administration’s prioritization of academic spaces, “but they are in my mind not universally accessible because they don’t provide access to the upper levels.”
Decatur took a different stance. “As we’ve been adding on to apartment-style housing,” he said, “we are required by code to make sure that we are adding on units that are accessible.” He said that the College has made more progress in making residential space accessible than academic space.
Decatur did mention that Old Kenyon, Hanna, Leonard, Gund, Lewis, Norton, Mather, McBride and Caples Residence Halls were all in need of renovations to address accessibility. He said renovations would take a decade to complete.
In terms of actively recruiting disabled students, Decatur said while this is desirable, it is “not something that we have thought about at this stage in terms of developing a plan or a strategy or an approach to that.”
“Kenyon needs to make an active and vigorous effort to recruit disabled students if they are serious about this kind of thing,” said Martin.
Decatur expects the College’s projects to speak for themselves.
“It’s not that we have a specific plan of outreach and marketing to students with disabilities,” he said, “but speaking of how the campus makes it clear that we are open to a diverse and broad range of students is something that’s important.”