Student Access Center fills in accessibility gaps on campus

It takes one push to open the doors to Regnier Hall, similar to other buildings on K-State's campus, demonstrating the university's accessibility. (Hannah Greer | Collegian Media)

Curving pathways and buildings that lack braille signage are just two obstacles Kaitlyn Cherry, senior in family studies and human services, faces on campus. Even with a seeing-eye dog, Cherry said without clear demarcations, there’s no telling where she may end up on campus since it’s common for pathways to split in three different directions.

“Being someone who is basically completely blind, it’s a pain in the butt,” Cherry said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to how campus is set up.”

Jason Maseberg-Tomlinson, director of the Student Access Center, said students with disabilities often encounter buildings lacking elevators and accommodating signage because many of Kansas State’s buildings are old.

“Over time, the change in buildings has significantly altered this campus, including updating older buildings and providing ramps, but there are some areas that may not have elevators,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said.

Cherry said while accessibility on campus could be a lot better, the Student Access Center has been extremely accommodating and enabled her to have a successful experience at K-State.

“The Access Center has been absolutely, positively wonderful,” Cherry said. “They’ve had my back ever since I’ve enrolled.”

The Student Access Center operates under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It assists students with academic, transportation and housing accommodations. Maseberg-Tomlinson said the center also works with students to ensure they have an equitable experience outside of the classroom such as at on-campus lectures and events.

For Cherry, the Student Access Center has provided all of her textbooks in accessible formats like braille and electronic, and she said they’ve also been a good liaison when she needs help talking to a professor.

Cherry, who is a nontraditional student at 28 years old, said she applied to K-State because she became bored at her previous job as a cashier.

“I actually tried college one time in 2009 back in Tennessee, but it was horrible,” Cherry said. “I vowed for a long time not to return, but in 2014 I thought, ‘OK, I can’t stay in this job for the next 10 years; I’m going to lose my marbles.’”

After graduation this spring, Cherry said she plans to go into the couples and family therapy field.

While Cherry utilizes many of the services the center has to offer, Maseberg-Tomlinson said students are incredible advocates for themselves as well.

The center helps students with both permanent and temporary disabilities, and when Macy Eatinger, junior in elementary education, was preparing to undergo surgery last year she reached out to the Student Access Center about her situation.

Eatinger did not end up needing the assistance of the center after her surgery, but she said it was nice to have the readily available support on campus.

Maseberg-Tomlinson said the center emphasizes how every student’s needs are unique. What may work for one student, whether it be academic accommodations or facility accessibility, may not for another.

“We keep in mind that every student is different,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said. “For example, a hallway that may be accessible for one student, or a doorway, may not be for another.”

Looking forward, Maseberg-Tomlinson said facility accessibility and digital technology are two areas the Student Access Center will be advocating for.

“We play an important role in taking feedback from our students and our knowledge of the accessibility standards to advocate for change on campus,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said.

He said the center is currently looking at how to make classrooms more accessible, such as adding tables that are accessible for wheelchairs since a student with that type of impairment cannot sit in connected desks. Maseberg-Tomlinson also said the center will put a plan in place for the next year to update some of the restrooms across campus to make them more accessible.

Maseberg-Tomlinson, who has served as the director for two years now, said working with students to create an accessible environment is very rewarding at the end of the day.

“When you can create an equitable, accessible environment for a student and you’re working with a student to overcome a barrier, there’s a great joy when you see that student’s face as they realize this is going to work out, or that someone is listening to their concerns and going to help out,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said.

On the Student Access Center’s website, there is a form for students to report an access barrier on campus. Whether the barrier is digital or physical, the center follows up on any reported barriers and ensures that the information is passed on to the appropriate facilities.

“We can’t be everywhere at once, and it’s great when the community can help us out,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said.