Construction poses some issues for physically disabled students

Allyson Waller

Navigating Speedway construction is not easy for government junior Archer Hadley. Hadley, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is reassessing how he gets around UT in a time when some accessibility features are being altered for the sake of development.

“Have you ever been in a marathon or a race or something, and at the beginning of the race, they put you all in like a little section that’s gated off?” Hadley said. “That’s how it is when you’re rolling down Inner Campus Drive or Speedway in a wheelchair.”

Temporary ramps, alternate routes and tighter pathways have been implemented on campus due to construction. Speedway construction will not be completed until early April 2018 when almost all Speedway bricks are replaced, said Jim Shackelford, director of Capital Planning and Construction. Buildings in construction are required to comply with Texas Accessibility Standards and the American Disabilities Act.

The department does its best to ensure accessibility and address student concerns, Shackelford said.

“We make changes as much as it’s practicable,” Shackelford said. “In some cases, someone may ask for a change that creates an unsafe condition for construction, and we wouldn’t be able to do that. We try to the greatest extent possible to accommodate the disabled community.”

Emily Shryock, assistant director of UT’s Services for Students with Disabilities, said SSD tries to act as a liaison for students when they have concerns about accessibility due to construction. These concerns could involve missing signage or accidental ramp removal, Shryock said.

“We’ve definitely had more (complaints) since the Speedway construction has started,” Shryock said. “When they (change) the area where they’re doing construction they always send us the plan of what they’re planning to do so that we can look at it and make sure the accessibility routes are being maintained.”

Government junior Caroline Graves, who has used a wheelchair since she was two years old, said she deals with issues that stem from construction. These include trying to ride down makeshift curb cuts, which make it hard for some students in wheelchairs to balance themselves.

“Sometimes, they’ll block paths that were the accessible route to get places, so you’ll have to work around that in general,” Graves said. “If they have a lot of debris out, it doesn’t feel great if you have to go over it with any mobility device in general.”

There are some disruptions that are unavoidable when it comes to construction, Shackelford said, but he hopes students will remain patient throughout the construction process.

“We recognize that it’s a challenge, and we try to mitigate and minimize the disruption to the greatest extent possible, understanding that some disruption is going to be inherent with construction,” Shackelford said. “I guess the overriding word would be: Be patient, because, when the construction is finished, it will be far better than it was when we began.”