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An Uphill Battle for Accessibility at SUNY Purchase

By Aspen Miserendino


A photograph of the out of service sign on the Humanities elevator (Photo by Aspen Miserendino)


Disabled students at SUNY Purchase face inaccessibility that is hindering their education, particularly in the Durst Humanities building.

 

Students miss classes because there is no way for them to get to the classrooms, they’re also unable to get into certain buildings on campus, they said. Disabled students have no choice but to sit in the back of their classrooms. While this sounds nearly dystopian it is the reality of many physically disabled students at Purchase. 

 

In the Humanities building, the only elevator in the building has been broken for five weeks. This has made the second floor of the building entirely inaccessible to students with certain mobility issues.


Owen Atkins is a freshman at Purchase who has hereditary spastic paraplegia and is quadriplegic. He uses an electric wheelchair and an augmentative and alternative communication to talk.


“I missed my second class this semester because the elevator was out in Humanities,” Atkins wrote.


He has also been unable to go to events in the Student Center because they are all late at night and the bathrooms are inaccessible. Last semester Atkins was could not attend disabled student union meetings because they were late at night and the club has no virtual attendance option.


Atkins wrote that the accessibility at Purchase is not perfect but is better than other colleges he looked at. The vast pavement and accessible bathrooms make Purchase easier to navigate.  


AJ Sanfratello is a junior at Purchase who uses a cane to walk. He has mobility issues caused by scoliosis. His physical disability has made it difficult for him to navigate his education at Purchase. His scoliosis is unpredictable and causes some days to be more difficult than others.

 

Sanfratello had to miss two weeks of his class that were on the second floor of the Humanities building. He was unable to walk up the stairs without hurting his ankles or back and the broken elevator was not an option. Sanfratello was only able to attend the class after the professor switched to a classroom on the first floor.

 

He tried to get attendance accommodations, given the spontaneity of his condition. He was originally denied, then after appealing three times he received attendance accommodations. Even with these accommodations he still ends up missing classes. Purchase not having online classes as an option is a barrier for him.


“All of that could have been avoided. If they had just listened or if Purchase had online classes." Sanfratello said.

 

Interim Director of Facilities Management Steven Dorso explained the problems with the Humanities elevator in an email. He wrote that the problem with the elevator stems from it needing a new pressure valve. This controls the hydraulic pressure which moves the elevator. The valve had faulty O-ring seals that got replaced. It happens to most elevators over time.


The parts needed to fix the elevator were on back order which added to its time being out of commission. Along with that, the service providers' technicians were busy and unable to attend to the repairs.


A sign was put up stating the elevator had a tentative repair date of March 6, but two days later, the elevator is still not working.


Looking under the disability section of Purchase’s website it states, “Purchase College is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in the college’s programs, activities and services.”


However, the school’s actions are not indicative of their words. 


Multiple automatic doors on campus do not work. Some buildings, like the Long Island University-Hudson Graduate Center and Student Center do not even have buttons, making them completely inaccessible. 


Above is a photo of what is supposed to be an accessible entrance to the Natural Sciences that has no button to open the door automatically (Photo by Aspen Miserendino)


Gabriel Berger is a sophomore at Purchase, he has arthritis in his legs and uses a cane to help himself walk.

 

Like Sanfratello and Atkins, Berger had a class on the upper floor of Humanities and was unable to attend for a while. The class ended up getting moved to the first floor.


When visiting friends on the freshman dorms on campus he cannot make it up to their dorms without assistance. There are no elevators in these buildings making something as simple as hanging out with friends a laborious task.


Inaccessibility on Purchase’s campus shows up in many ways. Looking at the online map of accessible entrances on campus, the Natural Sciences building has two. One has a ramp that snakes around the stairs forcing disabled students to take the long way into the building. The other accessible entrance is at the side of the building. It has a ramp leading up to a door with no button to open it automatically. 

 

Raven Karlick, a junior at Purchase, has multiple chronic illnesses that impact their mobility.


"There are so many different facets to accessibility and a lot of them are at this point in time not there," Karlick said.


Purchase has work to do to live up to their disability equality statement and ensure equal access for all, students who are disabled said. When things on campus are made accessible, it benefits everyone.

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