"We're really excited about the changes," said Sammie Young, director of the Office of Disability Services.
In the early 90's, an architect team visited the University to assess the buildings on the campus to make sure they were in compliance with the ADA. Finding that some changes needed to be made, the architects worked with the University to develop a five-year plan of action. Every year improvements would be made to the campus to increase accessibility to disabled students.
"It's very expensive to do this type of thing," Young said. "But everything should be completed by the late 90's. They've started with just the basic things like making cut-outs in the sidewalks."
According to James Nivens, the director of Facilities and Business Services, the top priorities for renovations will include the parking lots, curb cuts from the parking lots to the sidewalks and ensuring that doors and restrooms are the correct size for accessibility.
Derryberry Hall, the University Center (UC) and the Hooper Eblen Center will be the focus of the renovations. Some of the plans include adding automatic doors to the UC. "It's not just people in wheelchairs who have trouble opening the doors of the UC," Young said. "Even people with heart problems may find it difficult to push open the doors now." Later renovations will include adding a ramp to Foster Hall and adding more handicapped parking spaces on campus.
One example of the problems disabled students have had in accessing the campus is in Bartoo Hall and the Learning Resource Center (LRC), located on the second floor of that building. With no elevator, disabled students majoring in education cannot use the information in the LRC for their classes, putting them at a disadvantage with other students.
"The people who work in the LRC are very willing to help," said Crystal Amirkhanian, early childhood education major. "But I have to call ahead of time to ask workers to bring me the materials outside."
Overall, though, both faculty and students have been very supportive of students with disabilities. "The faculty members have been remarkable," Young said. "Sometimes they even go above what we request in accommodating disabled students."
Even from a student's viewpoint, "Faculty are better informed and more comfortable with student disabilities," Amirkhanian said. "But I think the bigger problem is a mindset. People are aware, but don't know what they can do to help.
"Our needs are not very different from students without disabilities, but they need to be met. No sidewalk should be without a cut-out."
Accessibility has improved during her time at Tennessee Tech, according to Amirkhanian, but lack of accessibility limits her choices on campus.
"I love Tennessee Tech," she said. "But I would like to see more changes made. I would like to have access to the drink machine in the grill, and we need automatic door openers for every building. I think that realistically anything can happen, and anyone could become disabled. We need to be aware of that in dealing with accessibility issues on campus."
Young has been working with Nivens to try to fulfill these dreams. According to Nivens, there have not been any funding problems in making the renovations.
"We're working with the State on this, and we're trying to prioritize the way the money is used," Nivens said."I really think all these efforts are going to mushroom for our good," Young said.