Navigating USD with a disability

When visitors and students enter campus from the East entrance, they are usually greeted by a Parking Services kiosk representative and a sign with directions.

“Enjoy our beautiful walking campus,” one sign read.

Though many campus community members can do so, those with temporary or permanent physical handicaps cannot stroll as easily across the University of San Diego’s campus as others can.

According to the Higher Education Compliance Alliance, almost all colleges and universities must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These pieces of legislation include regulations for accessibility and equal opportunity for Americans of all abilities to pursue higher education.

The University of San Diego Compliance Matrix explained USD is compliant with both pieces of legislation in terms of student access. USD must also comply with California law and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act in terms of facilities and employee accommodation.

With construction engulfing the West side of campus, students have been redirected to small, temporary walkways to move from one side of campus to the other. Though the construction is temporary, its impact draws attention to the issue of accessibility for handicapped students.

Both USD Parking Services and the Department of Public Safety have policies to accommodate students with mobility impairment.

According to Parking Services’ website, vehicles displaying an official handicap placard and valid USD parking pass may park in white lines, yellow-lined, USD tow away, or loading zone spaces without being cited. Parking Services may also issue temporary disabled placards for up to a 30-day use for those who request special parking needs and can provide a verifiable note from a medical doctor. These requests must include a specific date range and can serve as a temporary USD disabled permit to obtain a handicap placard from the DMV.

Parking Services and Public Safety may also provide assistance to disabled individuals, but may not be able to accommodate all requests due to departmental personnel availability, priority calls, and emergencies.

First year Elizabeth Bushnell is in a wheelchair. She said she chose to attend USD because it was smaller and easier to navigate.

“Accessibility was a concern, albeit a relatively minor one, as I am high functioning and fairly adaptable,” Bushnell said.

Bushnell lives on campus and noted that, while classrooms and the Student Life Pavilion are accessible, they could be improved to better serve students with disabilities.

“Many of the classrooms have desks with attached chairs, which I can make work, but it’d be easier if these classes had a few ordinary desks,” Bushnell said. “As for the dorms, I live in San Buenaventura, where there are no automatic doors.”

Bushnell explained that getting to and from class is usually not too strenuous, as she can also reach out to Public Safety for assistance.

“My commute is fine. In my manual wheelchair, I can sprint from San Buenaventura to the front door of the science building in just under 15 minutes (14:37),” Bushnell said. “The tram is about a 50/50 shot if the lift is working, so I don’t bother with it, but Public Safety is great. They’ve helped me out a couple times when I’ve gotten my electric wheelchair stuck.”

The construction, on the other hand, has challenged Bushnell’s routine.

“The construction kind of stinks,” Bushnell said. “It’s a huge detour, and my electric wheelchair doesn’t handle bumps well, so I’ve gotten stuck a couple times where they have the wooden boards and asphalt chips. It takes me a few extra minutes to get where I need to be.”

Luckily, Bushnell’s professors and peers have been both accommodating and helpful.

“[Professors] make sure to adapt activities and are understanding if I’m late coming from another class, or if my electric wheelchair malfunctions,” Bushnell said.

“Students here are very kind and willing to help. They always offer to help me up hills. I don’t want [anyone] to think I’m rude for declining, but my chair isn’t designed to be pushed. It’s weighted more toward the front to help me push and tilts forward easily, so it’s really more that I’d rather not run the risk of being dumped out in wheelbarrow-esque fashion. [The offer of help is] much appreciated, keep being your lovely selves.”

First year Patrick Bonner expressed that he is pleased with accessibility on campus and the resources provided by Disability Services. An Arizona native, Bonner chose USD for its small campus and class size and Catholic identity.

“Accessibility was definitely a factor in my college choice,” Bonner said. “It’s all been great so far. Disability Services has been amazing. I live on campus in Missions A, and I’m satisfied with it.”

Bonner, like Bushnell, has also been frustrated with the changes in accessibility due to construction.

“My commute is more difficult because some of the accessibility is blocked off, which is annoying,” Bonner said. “I’m definitely excited for the construction to end. Public Safety has also been really helpful, especially when my [electric wheelchair] broke down in the rain.”

Junior Elizabeth Rivette has been on crutches for two weeks with a temporary hip injury. Though she will only spent about three to four weeks without full mobility, she has had a hard time adjusting to campus terrain, especially due to construction pedestrian detours.

“I can’t get to the classrooms I need to via the tram because the Camino tram is so infrequent,” Rivette said. “The more handicap oriented [pedestrian] routes through the construction are even difficult to navigate because they are uneven and out of the way, meaning that I have to spend more time hobbling around trying to get to class. I’m usually stuck asking for rides, calling Public Safety, or even Ubering, because trying to get to the IPJ from Manchester is not an easy task on crutches.”

Though the expansion of Colachis Plaza has disrupted pedestrian routes on the West side of campus, students who do not have full mobility have been disproportionately affected. Students with temporary and permanent mobility issues can access resources at USD to aid them in their daily and academic lives.

The USD Vista reached out to Disability Services, but the program director was unavailable to comment.