Accessibility for people with disabilities is something that rarely crosses people’s mind if they aren’t affected by the issue. VCU wants to change that and bring the issue to the forefront of discussions.
To do so a town hall meeting on accessibility was hosted last Thursday. The event was coordinated by Resources for Independent Living, Students for Disability Advocacy Awareness, Virginia Board for People with Disabilities, the division for Academic Success, Disability Support Services, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Office for Institutional Quality.
The meeting consisted of an opening introduction of the panel, which included: Jack Brandt, the Disability Policy Specialist; Paula McMahon from the Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator; Kelly Hickok, Community Services Manager and Resources for Independent Living; Emily West the Learning Specialist Manager of the Medical Campus; Joyce B. Knight, the coordinator of Disability Support Services for Monroe Park campus; Emily Helft, the Assistive Technology Specialist, Disability Support Services; and Jan Altman, the Staff Psychologist and VCU Safe Zone Coordinator.
The town hall program was broken into three sessions. Each session featured four different tables all touching on different topics. The Commons A and B room consisted of about 20 people, mostly adults, but there were also a few students.
Jenson Larrimore is the president of the Students with Disabilities Advocacy and Awareness. He became disabled when he was in a motorcycle accident eight years ago.
Larrimore was a chef in Maui, Hawaii but the accident made him a T6 paraplegic, which means complete paralysis of lower body and legs and forced him to use a wheelchair.
In 2012, he missed six classes due to the hydraulic lifts in Hibbs not operating properly. Hmore active in the effort to get VCU to become accessible to all and founded SDAA with a friend.
His group identifies problems and makes issue of them for higher authorities. Larrimore said he has seen vast improvement at VCU in accessibility since his arrival in 2012. He sees room for the university improve.
“I look at VCU and I see the opportunity of making the most accessible campus in the mid-Atlantic region,” Larrimore said. “We’re an all urban campus, we’re in a tight geographic area and its flat.”
Not just students were at this event. Hickok serves the greater Richmond community by providing education and awareness about disability issues.
“Even individuals with disabilities are often caretakers of others, as well as managing their own disability,” Hickok said.
She brought up a variety of resources that can be improved, housing and transportation being the biggest issues.
According to Hickok, Affordable and accessible housing was a large concern, but it doesn’t stop there. If a person with disabilities home needs modification, Hickok helps the person find a contractor and helps the person find the financial resources to do the necessary work. She feels that everyone with a disability should be treated on a case by case basis.
“I like the term individual because it brings homes the point that were all different,” Hickok said. “Me and Paula both use a wheelchair, but it doesn’t mean we have the same needs and it’s not a cookie-cutter mold kind of situation.”
Overall, Emily West, who works with students with disabilities on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) committee for VCU, feels there is good collaboration among disability groups at VCU.
“I feel like the disability services organizations here at VCU do communicate well together, we do work together a lot,” West said. “ I do feel like we have a good community here at the VCU campus.