SRJC leaves room for improvement in accessibility

When+accessibility+buttons+break+down%2C+wheelchair+users+are+inconvenienced.

Daniel Kong/ Oak Leaf

When accessibility buttons break down, wheelchair users are inconvenienced.

Carin Huber , Copy Editor

As a community college, it’s Santa Rosa Junior College’s duty to make education accessible to everyone, regardless of physical ability. This is a duty that SRJC is not fulfilling as well as it could. The college should address problems with poor maintenance and planning.

I have good friends and family who use wheelchairs, so I hear about the challenges they face. Although I’m not mobility impaired by common standards, I use automatic door openers whenever they’re available. By avoiding touching public door handles I reduce my chances of getting sick or passing germs to my father, whose immune system is compromised. For these reasons, I am very aware of accessibility issues. When electric door openers don’t work, are confusing or inaccessible, I can just wash my hands an extra time if I have to use the door handle. Someone in a wheelchair may not be able to get through the door at all.

Most installations of door opener buttons consist of two buttons on both the inside and outside of the door. One button is placed about 3 feet from the ground to be pushed by hand, while the other is placed lower, where it can be pushed with a wheelchair’s footrest. A malfunction in either of these buttons can leave someone stranded on the wrong side of the door. The working button may not be one the person can use.

I have found non-working door openers on the SRJC campus in multiple buildings, and these buttons have remained broken for months. Others are placed in such a way that it’s confusing which door they are supposed to open. Still others are installed in places that are hard to reach, or alterations to the building make the buttons inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair.

In the north end of Analy Hall, a wall-mounted display case is just an inch or so away from a door button. The bottom corner of the case, while well above the lower button, is a sharp corner which may, nevertheless, keep some wheelchair users from reaching it.

SRJC student James Vigare hasn’t had problems with broken buttons, but said that some doors don’t stay open long enough for him to maneuver his large electric wheelchair through them. Bathrooms can be a challenge for him, too. “Some of the bathrooms should be a little bit bigger,” Vigare said. “Some of them are hard to get in with my chair.”

Another bathroom problem is the placement of tissue holders in the wheelchair accessible stalls. Such stalls have grab rails which affect the placement of tissue holders. Most of the time the holder is installed below the rail. This places the bottom of the holder, where the tissue is dispensed, at or below knee level of someone seated on the commode.

In Analy Hall’s women’s bathroom, the bottom of the tissue holder is less than 20 inches from the floor in the wheelchair accessible stall. If the tissue roll is nearing its end, I have to twist my wrist painfully to reach it. The lowest holder in the other stalls in this bathroom is 3 inches higher. The highest one is 33 inches above the floor. In some restrooms the commode in the wheelchair accessible stall is a few inches taller than those in the other stalls, making the problem with low-set tissue holders even worse. Using a public restroom with a wheelchair is difficult enough. Why are tissue holders being placed so low, when it would be no more difficult to install them above the rail?

I appreciate the concessions SRJC makes to bring educational opportunities to everyone. I just think there’s room for improvement.