Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Access and allies

Kat MacFarlane doesn’t use a wheelchair to get around campus. And at first glance, she doesn’t look like she has a disability.

But MacFarlane suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that inflames her joints, especially her left knee. She has trouble getting around campus and often is late to class.

“Most days I can walk, some days I can’t,” said MacFarlane, a Weinberg senior. “I ride around on a bike now, which helps. But some days I can’t even ride a bike. … It’s just not the easiest campus to be on if you have a disability.”

Because of her condition, and because she realizes other students have even more serious disabilities, MacFarlane has been helping Music seniors Becca Pascal and Heather Doyle in their campaign to improve handicap accessibility on campus. The women have spent the past week and a half gathering signatures on a petition, rallying student support and meeting with administrators.

Northwestern administrators agree they need to make changes but say renovations come at a high cost.

“It’s not a campus which has been particularly friendly to people with severe physical disabilities,” University President Henry Bienen said. “It’s stretched out, it’s rectangular, a lot of the buildings haven’t been retro-fitted. … The trouble for universities that have a lot of old physical structures is that to go out and tackle them is very expensive to do.”

NU has spent $2 million on building improvements as part of a 10-year, $5 million campaign that began in 1998. But despite the improvements made so far, MacFarlane and other students say more work needs to be done.

“It’s a shame that in order for some of the students who are disabled to live normal lives, they have to be activists,” said Ari Margolis, a McCormick senior who is working on the petition. “That’s not right. They should not have to worry about having to complain and make a big deal when they want to do something.”

Campus improvements

NU’s accessibility-improvement campaign has brought several changes to campus since Bienen initiated the project four years ago.

Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Ronald Nayler said NU has added electronic door openers to buildings across campus. Other building improvements include adding braille room signs and an electronic lift to Norris University Center.

NU funds its building improvements according to a five-step priority list:

_Ѣ Making an accessible path from parking lots to the first floor of buildings, including ramps to the front door and electronic door openers.

_Ѣ Making first-floor classrooms, restrooms and drinking fountains handicap-accessible.

_Ѣ Enlarging elevators and elevator shafts.

_Ѣ Installing handicap-accessible elevators in buildings without elevators.

_Ѣ Making classrooms, restrooms and drinking fountains on all remaining floors handicap-accessible.

Nayler said NU has altered its priority scheme in specific cases, including making the WNUR-FM (89.3) studio in Annie May Swift Hall handicap-accessible for a wheelchair-using student who wanted to work for the radio station.

“We work with (the office of) student affairs to try and keep on top of what we see as important issues, and we amend our priority list to deal with specific accommodations,” Nayler said.

Radio Star

When Medill freshman Dan Ellman makes his WNUR sportscast Friday, it will be the first time anyone now at WNUR News can remember someone making use of the handicap-accessible improvements.

WNUR Sportscast Director Meredith Kesner took Ellman on a successful trial run of the facilities last week. Ellman said the smooth ride reflects the four weeks he’s spent on campus.

“(This campus is) the perfect size – I can get everywhere on time without making any special arrangements,” he said. “Every building has a handicap entrance. Sometimes it’s out of the way, but I don’t mind. … I don’t like to be too picky.”

In fact, Ellman said his biggest problem with NU is all the homework he has been assigned. He especially likes his dorm room, a handicap-accessible room on the first floor of Jones Fine and Performing Arts Residential College.

“It’s the biggest room in the building,” he said. “People want to come down and hang out in it.”

But Ellman said he won’t spend much time in his room. He’s a self-professed radio junkie who was his high school radio station’s program director and has worked for a professional radio station in Detroit. Ellman said he wants to spend his next four years working for WNUR Sports.

Ellman is lucky – he has the opportunity to pursue his passion. But not all students with disabilities share this privilege.

Rushing for improvements

Chris Sanchez wanted his main social outlet to be up north in the fraternities. And although the Weinberg sophomore enjoyed the rush process and made new friends during it, the problems he had accessing houses left him with a bitter taste in his mouth.

Sanchez said he couldn’t get into the fraternity houses to mingle and meet members before Winter Rush began. He insists he isn’t asking for much – just ramps leading to fraternity doors so he can enter houses’ living rooms.

“Some of my friends are in fraternities,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to at least be able to hang out with them. It would be nice to go there, even just when they have parties.”

Sanchez found an ally in Margolis, who is vice president of Zeta Beta Tau. Margolis said he was disappointed with how NU dealt with Sanchez’ rush experience last winter. He believes NU could have begun accommodating Sanchez’s disability earlier, before Sanchez discovered he was unable to enter the fraternity houses.

Margolis said he is working with Greek administrators to improve this year’s rush. He is meeting with acting Assistant Director of Greek Affairs Sean Thomas today and said he hopes to make some Fall Quarter fraternity events handicap-accessible. Eventually Margolis would like to see all fraternity and sorority houses be made handicap-accessible.

But Greek organizations lack the money to make the renovations, he said.

“I think it would be an act of good faith by the university to make every building handicap-accessible, regardless of whether it is being rented out to a group for activities or not,” Margolis said.

Courage and Encouragement

MacFarlane’s condition has been degenerating throughout her four years at NU; walking around campus has put too much stress on her knees. She’s scheduled to undergo surgery soon, hoping to alleviate the pain.

In the meantime, she’s working with Pascal, Doyle, Margolis and others to help improve campus life and make NU a better option for students with problems more debilitating than hers.

“Life could be a lot worse – it’s taught me a lot,” MacFarlane said. “I want students who are disabled in some way and are thinking of applying here not to be deterred because of the current state of access on this campus. I’d like to see those students encouraged to come here instead of being scared away.”


Buildings without handicap access (Map by Kristin Turney/The Daily Northwestern)
Administration says building renovations not influenced by ADA lawsuit against Duke
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Access and allies