Thomas Kidd rolled up to the elevator in Maury Hall and sighed. He couldn’t reach the buttons, which were too high for him to reach. He wondered what to do next — he couldn’t be late for class.
“Stairs definitely aren’t an option,” he said. His wheelchair wouldn’t allow that.
Another student approaches and presses the button for Kidd. He’s thankful, as someone usually helps him when he’s unable to do it himself, but he said it’d be a lot more convenient if it wasn’t an issue in the first place.
Kidd, a history major, was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare degenerative disease in which one’s muscles get progressively weaker over time. He was able to walk until sixth grade, when he started using a wheelchair.
“The biggest thing about this is definitely constant change, ” Kidd said. “Recently, it’s gotten harder to do certain things.”
He used to be able to participate in physical education activities at school, and even take a sip of a drink without using a straw, but he no longer can.
Kidd said that if he could make JMU’s campus more accessible, he’d make the elevator and automatic door buttons functional and at a reachable level. But, JMU currently follows ADA mandates that have a standard of buttons being 42 inches away from the floor.
He also said he’d add more ramps to certain buildings, such as Wilson Hall, since the only ramp is in the back of the iconic building. The building also received a major $16 million renovation in 2019.
“It’s not that big of an issue, but I do feel like it’s kind of strange that everyone else can go through the front of Wilson,” Kidd said. “Like, they renovated the whole place.”
Intelligence analysis major Joshua Jurack, who also uses a wheelchair because of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, agreed that JMU should implement more easy-to-find ramps. According to Jurack, some ramps are identifiable, but he’s had to research others since some of the older buildings aren’t as accessible.
As a freshman, Jurack hasn’t faced major physical barriers so far, especially since most of his work is online, making it easier for him to complete. He also said his peers have been accepting and inclusive of people with disabilities, and that the JMU Office of Disabilities Services is a helpful resource.
According to Joy Martin, the assistant director and learning strategies coordinator of ODS, the office is working to make web, learning materials and campus events more accessible, especially considering the major switch to online learning with COVID-19.
Some remote accommodations, which can be administered by instructors or ODS staff remotely, include extended exam times on Canvas, usage of text-to-speech software, enlarged text, scribes and interpreters on Zoom.
“Accessibility is a campus-wide responsibility,” Martin said. “This is why we have so many partners and cultivate advocates from all parts of JMU to further a culture of accessibility and inclusion for all people at JMU.”
The social aspect of JMU makes Kidd feel welcome at JMU. He said he’s part of clubs, such as Madison Disability Inclusion Group and JMU’s cosplay guild. At Madison DIG, he’s able to bring his perspective into the conversation about accessibility on campus, and at cosplay guild meetings, he can share his passion for sewing and building costumes.
“There’s a lot of people that are willing to help me,” Kidd said. “I have a lot of friends willing to basically do whatever I need, which is nice.”
Jurack said his professors are some of the most accommodating people he’s met on campus. They’ve let him choose where he’s most comfortable sitting in classrooms and have been cooperative with extended office hours. He said classes in general have been adapted to fit his needs.
“It’s kind of like also teaching us how to advocate for ourselves and tell people what we need,” Jurack said, referring to asking for accommodations through Disability Services.
If there was something that could be improved within JMU, Jurack said it would be increasing awareness for social activities among the community of people with disabilities. He said he’s made friends in classes, but is interested in engaging with other students with disabilities.
“For the most part, I’ve been really happy with how accessible [campus] is,” Jurack said. “One of my favorite things about JMU is the people. Everyone they meet, they always say ‘Hi.’ People at JMU especially nowadays ... their eyes are a lot more open and they kind of see past your disability.”
Kailey Cheng is a senior media arts and design and writing, rhetoric and technical communication double major. Contact Kailey at email@example.com.