Ramapo’s campus upholds original accessible design

It is no secret that Ramapo has received high praise for its accessible campus. In fact, the interconnected academic building, the assistive technology and Residence Life’s housing accommodations earned the school the No. 7 spot on College Magazine’s “Top 10 Campuses for Students with Physical Disabilities” list in 2019.

With Disability Awareness Month having just passed in October, it is a good time to examine what accommodations the school offers and how easy they are for physically disabled students to utilize.

The information provided on the Office of Specialized Services (OSS)’s webpage about campus accessibility includes the basics about elevators, buildings and parking but is otherwise vague about the specific accommodations they offer for physically disabled students.

The page highlights that Wings A through H, the Student Center, the Adler Center and the Anisfield School of Business are all connected with elevators throughout. The Berrie Center and the Learning Commons are the only main campus buildings that are not connected, but they are close by and still wheelchair accessible. The website also notes that there is accessible parking for the academic buildings in the Student Center lot, near all housing areas, behind the G and H wings and in the A parking lot outside the Berrie Center.

As I spoke with Missy Long, OSS’s assistant director for assistive technology and accommodation services, it became clear to me that OSS excels at matching students with accommodations that fit their unique needs. While the office has a lot of experience under its belt, if the staff is presented with an accommodation they have never done before, they are always willing to at least try to make it happen. But that’s only possible if Ramapo’s offices, professors and administrators are open-minded and willing to work with them as a team.

“The college really has a great attitude in regards to wanting to make the campus accessible,” Long said. “If a student comes to me with an accessibility issue, and I reach out to Facilities or whatever office is appropriate, the college is right on it… They’re very willing to correct whatever needs correcting.”

Adam Foye, a senior computer science major who uses a motorized wheelchair, shared a similar sentiment about treatment from his professors.

“I don’t think I’ve ever in my whole time that I’ve been here had an incident where any professor balked at some accommodation that I had,” he said. “In fact, most often, they would personally make sure that whatever it was, was going well.”

The most common accommodations that OSS seems to handle for physically disabled students relate to parking, early class registration and housing. Long explained that beyond the regular handicap parking spaces, there are “designated OSS reserved spaces” for students with mobility impairments by the Student Center, Pavilion and G and H wings.

“Most students will come [to campus] a little bit later in the morning, and many of the traditional handicap spaces will be taken by faculty or staff who get here much earlier,” she said. “We were finding that students that had mobility issues were really having difficulty getting a handicap spot. So, we created these OSS reserved spaces designed for students that have that handicap placard, and they’ve worked out great.”

Campus housing is where specific accommodations seem to come into play most because each student has their own individual needs. The standard accessible housing that Ramapo offers comes with generally bigger spaces, specifically in the bathroom where there is a wider roll-in shower with railings as well as railings next to the toilet.

Door heaviness can present an issue for physically disabled students though, so when requested, Facilities will install automatic door openers that work similarly to a garage door opener. When Facilities install such technology in dorms, OSS keeps a list of the modifications, so they know where future students who need these accommodations should be placed.

While there will always be accessibility issues to some degree because, as Long put it, “the world is not made for people with mobility issues,” Ramapo has done a stellar job at being proactive, open-minded and always striving for improvement over the years.

Whether or not a bathroom is truly accessible can depend on how its door opens. Photo by Rebecca Gathercole

However, Ramapo certainly isn’t perfect, and there are always improvements to be made. Some of the public bathrooms aren’t easy to access for a wheelchair user, and there seem to be only a few with automatic door openers around campus. According to Foye, some of the College Park Apartments have a step at the door that makes it harder for wheelchair users to enter. Above all, the college is quite literally built on a hill that could make it difficult for physically disabled people to navigate, but there’s likely nothing that the school can do to change that.

While these points shouldn’t be ignored, it’s clear that Ramapo values accessibility and has tried its best so far to make the campus as accessible and welcoming as possible both architecturally and attitudinally.

This all ties back to how accessibility is rooted within Ramapo’s beginnings. Laurie Potter, the wife of Ramapo’s first president, had physically disabled people in mind when ensuring the academic buildings were connected when the school was built in the 1960s. She wanted to make the campus accessible for Vietnam veterans who would attend the school. Potter was way ahead of her time with this inclusivity, and she set the tone for how Ramapo has handled disabilities and accessibility in the 53 years since.

Long highlighted that for Ramapo to be the best it can be, accessibility should not only concern the people who need it. It needs to be the entire community’s responsibility.

“I just would encourage everyone that if they see anything that clearly could be a hurdle for someone with a mobility issue to by all means either let OSS know, let Facilities know, because no one can be everywhere,” she said. “Make accessibility everybody’s issue.”



Featured photo by Rebecca Gathercole.