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For some, winter weather burdens on-campus handicap accessibility

Justin Surgent/Collegian

For junior communications major Josh Pearson, who is blind and uses a guide dog, sometimes crossing the street in winter is easier said than done.

Pearson said snow-blocked sidewalks make it difficult for his guide dog, who is trained to find alternate ways around the snow.

His dog “has, on a couple of occasions, tried to tunnel through the snow or he’ll just walk right on by (the curb cut),” Pearson said.

Covered curb cuts – breaks connecting the sidewalk and roadway to allow for pedestrian access, from bicycles and strollers to wheelchairs and walkers – are a persistent problem on campus, said Pearson and AnnMarie Duchon, associate director of accommodation services for UMass Disability Services. And the snow banks that are characteristic of a typical New England winter can sometimes make mobility a particular issue for those with a handicap.

Duchon said snow buildup on curb cuts and sidewalks are one of the biggest obstacles that the winter weather brings to campus.

“Sometimes the plows might plow (a person’s vehicle) into their parking space or plow the curb cuts so that the person who’s maybe a wheelchair user, or uses a cane, or what have you, has trouble utilizing the sidewalks,” Duchon said.

Pearson is no stranger to the plow problem.

“When crossing streets it’s an issue because (plows) don’t oftentimes clear the curbs well enough and so I and my dog can’t really pick up on the curb,” he said. “The dog is trained to stop at a curb and if you’ve got snow and ice blocking that, it kind of blends into the street so there’s no clear difference between sidewalk and street.”

Duchon said Disability Services isn’t always immediately aware of what spots need to be cleared.

“We don’t know necessarily what the situation is in front of every residence hall or every academic building,” she said. “We always do the best job when we have proper information from folks who need services or folks who are able to be allies and inform us of needs.”

Duchon said “the winter sort of brings up some kind of unique issues” and that disability services works “pretty closely with the UMass special transit van service to make sure that anyone who is in need of van service on campus could be eligible for that for transportation.”

Reginald Andrade, consumer manager at disability services, said in addition to the “punctual” and “reliable” special transit van service, UMass has “a good transportation system,” which includes the campus shuttles that are suggested to handicap students, especially “once the weather starts turning colder and icy conditions (arise),” he said.

The nearly 40-year-old Disability Services provides accommodations to disabled students for a range of issues such as campus accessibility, academic courses and employment.

But the UMass Physical Plant is in charge of the shoveling and plowing of snow on campus, according to Pam Monn, assistant director of the building and grounds department.

Monn declined to comment on concerns students may have about sidewalks.

Pearson said his frustration lies not in Disability Services’ work, which he praised as “terrific,” but more so in the efforts of those whose job it is to clear the pathways on campus.

“I think (maintenance needs) to get more efficient at making sure that the clearing and all of that stuff is done quicker. I think they just need to step up on their game,” Pearson said.

Some students, such as freshman Marybeth Rush, who uses a motorized wheelchair, are satisfied with the condition of campus during winter. Rush said campus maintenance at UMass is in better shape than other college campuses she has visited.

“(Plowers) don’t really let (snow) get passed an inch, which is wonderful,” Rush said. “They’re usually pretty good about plowing. It’s not really an issue.”

Ginger Dudkiewicz, assistant director for Disability Services’ Information Access Program, who is blind and uses a white cane, said maintenance should make “ramps a priority for clearing and treatment for ice.”

“UMass is a huge campus with lots of sidewalks,” Dudkiewicz said. “With the resources they have, I think they do an OK job. All of us could do better.”

Anna Jolliffe can be reached at ajolliff@student.umass.edu.

 

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