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Virginia Tech students speak out about ADA accessibility issues

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 9:58 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Students at Virginia Tech are speaking out about their struggles getting around campus if they have disabilities.

Navigating from dorm rooms to classrooms is a daily practice for college students across the country.

When Sarah Bernat broke her foot in August, she couldn’t walk without crutches, and never expected how challenging this task would be with a temporary injury.

“I eventually got my knee scooter, but there’s a serious lack of ramps around campus, and so I intended on going out to class, but I was stopped maybe 300 yards outside of my dorm room because I couldn’t get there,” said Bernat.

The freshman BioChemistry major says coordinating accommodations took weeks of paperwork, calls, and emails to student disability services.

After the 6-week ordeal, with missed classes that couldn’t all be excused, she decided to drop down to being a part-time student. In doing so, her advisor, a resident advisor, and other faculty members told her she’d lose her dorm room housing. After moving out, Bernat says the university’s housing committee is refusing to release her from her housing contract.

“Tech’s motto is “Ut Prosim: That I May Serve” and I really don’t feel like they’re serving the students,” said Bernat.

A Virginia Tech spokesperson tells us ADA accessibility was not around when campus buildings were constructed 150 years ago. He says over time the university has made great strides in making the campus more accessible, and that resources are available for students, but he says there does need to be active engagement and involvement on the student’s part.

Students we spoke with say even after reaching out, many of the issues weren’t solved.

Members of Virginia Tech’s Disability Alliance say many of the buildings don’t have elevators, and new construction tends to block the accessible routes outlined on Tech’s interactive map.

Graduate student and Ph.D. candidate Casey Anne Brimmer tells us the “one size fits all” approach of the university has made their commute to teaching classes more difficult.

“The door closest to accessible parking was locked, and it was either walk all the way around the building or go downstairs. So my choice was pain or pain,” recalls Brimmer. “I called somebody to report an accessibility issue and the first call I got back was ‘you need a key to use that lift,’ well, I didn’t need it when I ripped a muscle in my leg last year and that’s a problem. You shouldn’t need a key to access a public building.”

Brimmer says returning to in-person classes after the pandemic left them feeling unsettled about making their way around campus again. When asking for accommodations in the past, Brimmer says there has been pushback from other faculty members.

“I was told if I was concerned about it I should take a medical leave, I told them I’m capable of the work I’m just concerned about being on campus,” adds Brimmer.

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