Do you have access? – Northern Iowa

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Student Caleb Gahle talks about his journey advocating for others to have access

The first week of classes was full of welcome events. The Center for Multicultural Education hosted a Cones and Connections event on August 31. A topic of conversation inspired this article.

“How’s your semester going?” Caleb Gahle replied with a smile. “Not so good. My wheelchair broke and I’m not used to walking on campus.”

Gahle is a fifth-year social science student with a minor in public history. He is a student ambassador who organizes tours and advocates for accessibility services on campus. He is Co-Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This means regular meetings with the university president and various departments. Gahle is a student ambassador. He gives tours to prospective and new students around campus.

Gahle also suffers from a physical disability caused by cerebral palsy. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, cerebral palsy refers to a number of neurological disorders and it appears in early childhood and permanently affects muscle coordination and body movement Cerebral palsy caused him limited mobility in his lower limbs. His wheelchair allows him to facilitate walks of 10 to 15 minutes for able-bodied people. It would take him weeks to get a replacement, so he had to use a walker to get by in the meantime.

Gahle is also creating a new student organization called Awareness, Community, Collaboration, Empowerment, Support and Success (ACCESS). The group of students with disabilities of all kinds must have a place where they can share and raise awareness about themselves and the stigma around disabilities, alliance and a place where people can be themselves . Disabilities come in many different forms. They are not only physical but can be mental, visual and auditory and can affect people in different ways.

Gahle says, “Frankly, the problem is awareness; it’s not who we talk to, but that when we do, no action is taken.

Awareness is the first step to realizing that there are issues that affect those who are not us. These issues may affect or present themselves differently indirectly. But it takes several different groups to help solve them.

The university complies with the Federal American Disability Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008. These laws protect people with disabilities from discrimination in businesses, workplaces and public institutions. The 2008 ADAAA requires buildings to have equal access for all, which includes buttons for the disabled and ramps for mobility. Equal access also means providing alternate routes and regular updates of possible physical and limited barriers like callouts for the hearing impaired, handicap button not blocked by construction, clear snow path and auxiliary aids for the visually impaired.

Nick Johnson graduated in the spring and earned a degree in graphic design from UNI. Johnson served as Co-Director of Accessibility alongside Gahle for the Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG) in 2019. Johnson and Gahle met at a dorm in their freshman year. Gahle remembers saying, “Hi, my name is Caleb. I have cerebral palsy. Johnson yelled, “Hey! Me too!” in response. They became roommates afterward. By bonding over shared experiences, Johnson helped inspire Gahle’s interest in advocacy after the 2019 polar vortex. These issues have persisted since before their predecessors at NISG, Change of Directors of Student Accessibility Services and even now.

Gahle said that: “One can be ‘sorry’ that these issues happened, but the correct apology is continuous and substantial action. Being too high in the chain of command is no excuse for continued inaction, especially for a university that prides itself on being inclusive and responsive to the needs of its students.

Johnson shared stories of numerous trips and falls due to missing pieces of concrete in sidewalks. Gahle has rolled over and fallen out of his wheelchair several times due to the same problem. Johnson remembers having to dig a student in an electric wheelchair through the snow with his bare hands. It was because the ramp was filled with snow.

They created various mass communication email threads to different departments regarding large-scale accessibility issues, following guidelines by taking pictures and filing complaints. They invited themselves to annual safety walks with administrators showing the areas they stumbled upon, the pieces of concrete believed to be intact or unearthed.

They proposed the Snow Removal Act. This law created overlapping routes that the facilities office must remove and prioritize so students with or without disabilities can walk to class without slipping and falling on ice or getting their wheelchairs stuck in snow. It was only a temporary solution since the plan was stopped after about a year.

NISG President Leila Masinovic and Vice President Micaiah Krutsinger agree that it is important to broadcast and share issues to find solutions to persistent problems. NISG leaders were surprised to learn the extent of their problems. Prior to our interview, Masinovic and Krutsinger were drafting a law on ice removal. The proposal would use computing to create an app to let students know the best routes during the winter. This shows that there is no ongoing dialogue between the administration and other student-run groups regarding accessibility. Especially when the NISG has accessibility director positions within the organization.

Masinovic says, “First of all, we need to seek to understand and be more educated about the issues that affect others, especially those we want to work with so that we can help each other.” I know I’m privileged in the sense that I don’t have to worry about accessibility issues. I can’t believe these problems have been going on for so long. The university must take students seriously and give ALL students the same care. We may not be able to solve all the problems, but we can at least try to do something.

Notable departments on campus that deal with accessibility issues are Facilities Management, University Housing and Food, Student Accessibility Services, and the Office of Compliance and Equity Management.

Tiffany Dodd is the Assistant Dean of Students for Accessibility Services. She works regularly with Gahle. She is very supportive of the students who come to her. Gahle states that his office is still in his corner.

Leah Gutknecht is the Assistant to the President of the Office of Compliance and Equity Management (OCEM). She is also the primary compliance officer, which means she adheres to and oversees the office by following “Title IX, Title VII, ADA/Section 504, and related civil rights-based regulations.” Gutknecht states that “OCEM ensures equal opportunity in all educational and employment opportunities at the institution.” This includes: “addressing protected class discrimination and harassment concerns, managing our affirmative action and prevention efforts. “

Gutknecht said: “We [OCEM, SAS, UHD, Facilities Management] all end up working together to solve any problems that cross multiple domains. She also said it can be difficult to keep campus buildings up to date with the ADAAA since they were built before its implementation in 2008. improved that we have taken via changes. to Policy 13.15 Accommodations for Persons with Disabilities. »

Rod Library staff are also concerned about bathroom accessibility. Some shared that they would like to convert some staff bathrooms on the 2nd floor to accessible all-inclusive single-use bathrooms.

Recent construction and renovation around campus has raised concerns about accessibility updates. The need for regular updating can help disabled students and campus walkers with alternate routes, alternate entrances, and more time to plan a trip without a class trip. Gahle proposed an alert system similar to that of the university police department. He hasn’t heard back since.

The university should be honest and transparent about whether to address issues, concerns, and action plans for students and staff. There may be more obstacles than long-term solutions at the administrative level. The office is able to create at least a short-term solution to the larger problem of systemic problems on campus. It is really up to students and faculty to hold our administration accountable and transparent. Whatever the excuses, we deserve an explanation as to why the issues that affect our daily lives are pushed aside.

This article is a brief summary of a truly broader scope of issues surrounding campus accessibility advocacy and broader systemic issues of transparency, ongoing solutions at the institutional level.

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