Students and faculty wrote a petition earlier this month asserting the disability cultural center slated to come to Cole Field House in fall 2024 has numerous accessibility barriers.

University President Darryll Pines announced in November 2021 the university would build new cultural centers for Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander Desi American, Native American and indigenous, multiracial and biracial students as well as students with disabilities. However, students and faculty said the field house is not an accessible building as the spaces have low occupancy and have additional accessibility issues.

The main entrance to Cole Field House has steps, but no ramp. During the design forum meeting for the disability cultural center, disabled students asked the university to include textured flooring to help blind students know where to walk.

All entrances into the building should be accessible for people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, Jessica Lee Mathiason, an assistant research professor in the women, gender and sexuality studies department, said.

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Universal design should be an important part of the cultural center project, because it’s built on principles of accommodating different people through the entire design process, Mathiason added.

“I’ve asked about universal design … and the architects will say things like, ‘Oh yeah, sure, we’re gonna do that at the very end,’ or, ‘Yeah, we’ll think about that later,’” Mathiason said. “Which clearly demonstrates that they don’t know what universal design is.”

Improving the accessibility of Cole Field House is a focus of the cultural centers project, according to a statement from this university. These improvements include a new elevator to make the second and third floor accessible and an accessible entrance that will allow easy access to the cultural centers.

In November, senior neurobiology and physiology major Mya Smith and junior women, gender and sexuality studies major Jessie Ricci wrote an email to Leonard Azonobi, the capital project planner of the President’s Commission on Disability Issues, about how the design forum for the disability cultural center did not focus on accessibility.

“There was no real space to talk about what students really wanted in terms of accessibility,” Ricci said. “We also really called on the university to have better actions with trying to reach out to disabled students for this project.”

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Students felt the university did not try to implement avenues for disabled students to be involved in the cultural center planning process even after student-led attempts to reach out, Ricci said.

The university plans to collect feedback and hold virtual discussions in early 2023 for students who will use the cultural centers, the university statement said. 

The petition says students are unhappy with how the process has gone so far and the space in Cole Field House was not the appropriate choice.

In addition to the small space, the petition says Cole Field House is at the top of a hill that has a lot of noise pollution, which is not accessible to people who experience overstimulation or noise sensitivities, according to Brandee Kaplan, a sophomore women, gender and sexuality studies major.

Kaplan said the university should have discussed with disabled students what they would like to see.

“Cole Field House could be used for something, but it’s not this,” Kaplan said. “It feels something [like an] F-you from the university to put a disability space in a building that disabled people cannot access.”