Handicapped students returning to Colorado Mesa University after the winter break may notice that they have an easier time using the restroom. CMU took advantage of the break to install automatic door openers in unisex bathrooms around campus. The decision came after The Criterion article “CMU lacking handicap access” brought attention to difficulties accessing bathrooms faced by some students.
According to Marshall’s office, the doors cost $6,500 each for a total price near $39,000. The new doors are located on the first floors of Confluence Hall, Dominguez Hall, Houston Hall, Escalante Hall, Tomlinson Library and Health Sciences.
Though the matter involved handicap access, it was not a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws, which all universities in the United States must adhere to. The laws state that 60 percent of the entrances must be handicap accessible, but have no mention of interior doors, such as bathroom entrances.
In September, Vice President of Student Services John Marshall said, “This is one of the most ADA-compliant campuses in the country […] Our architecture codes and building codes are updated every few years. [Escalante] would be the most modern [building] we have on campus, so it’s gonna be the most up to date as far as ADA compliance.”
Though CMU was within the letter of the law, there were students facing difficulties with something non-handicapped individuals may take for granted; using the restroom. Wheelchair-bound student Andrea Hollinger was incapable of opening bathroom doors and had to request the assistance of her professor.
“I want to be able to go to the bathroom without having to ask somebody I don’t know to open the door, or even worse, my professor,” Hollinger said in September.
Hollinger, and all students with similar physical limitations, no longer have to face the potentially embarrassing situation of asking passerby or professors to open bathroom doors for them.
Though CMU was in ADA compliance, administration officials did not like learning that a single student faced difficulties that could potentially make their experience at the university a negative one. After discussing the problem, the decision to improve bathroom access was reached.
“It’s just one of those circumstances where a student brought us an issue and said, ‘here’s a concern.’ The administration looked at it and analyzed it and then priced it out,” Marshall said. “It turned out we were able to get that done at a pretty moderate cost, and able to make that happen over the Christmas break.”
Hollinger said returning to CMU for the spring semester and finding the changes made for handicap access to bathrooms gave her one less concern to think about when planning her day. She said that with physical disabilities, a lot of planning is involved in day-to-day life and the new bathroom doors make life somewhat easier for her.
“I know for me personally and for others, the issue is more about appearing as average as possible and with any disability, it’s important to feel as accepted as everyone else without any differences,” Hollinger said. “As for how I feel about the newly acquired handicap access, I think I was a step in being considered more equal even if going to the bathroom doesn’t seem like that big of an issue. I appreciate the effort that has been taken, however, and I think the students who didn’t speak up appreciate the effort put forward by the school as well.”
For CMU, the matter was part of their desire to do the right thing for students. Marshall acknowledged that students have a choice of which school to attend, so the administration tries to make students feel like they matter individually and give them a better experience than other schools may offer.
“I’d say this is one small example of the commitment, the culture of the university that you attend here, so you’re not just some faceless number. You have a name, you have a story, you have the ability to come in and raise issues and the university can listen and try to solve them,” Marshall said.
CMU learned that some students had difficulty accessing bathrooms in September and had new bathroom doors ready for handicapped students to use when they returned to school in January. Marshall gave credit for the time frame to Facilities.
“Credit to the Facilities group. When you pause and think about a small city of 10,000, which is what we are, you tend to see the people that are moreover facing; the professors and the financial aid counselors,” Marshall said. “A lot of times the unsung heroes on this campus are the guys in grounds and facilities and others that are keeping millions of square feet cooled, heated, cleaned and cared for.”
Marshall welcomes continued student input on issues they face. He stated that CMU is a fairly agile institution that exists for all students and therefore they want to make sure all students have equal access to the facilities.