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Thursday, July 07, 2022 — Houston, TX

Accessibility issues affect first month of Kraft Hall use

Channing Wang/Thresher

By Sammi Johnson     2/18/20 10:41pm

Due to the delay in the installation of automatic doors at the Kraft Hall for Social Sciences, students with disabilities faced difficulties entering the building and getting to classrooms during the first four weeks of the semester. According to Larry Vossler, senior project manager at Facilities Engineering and Planning, the delay was due to an issue getting the permit for the lock on the door from the city of Houston. 

Shane DiGiovanna, chair for the Student Association Students with Disabilities Council, said he noticed the lack of push buttons or automatic doors on the first day of class. He had to wait for someone to come and open the door for him. The automatic doors were not installed until the fourth week of the semester. 

“If you want to open a new building to students, you have to make sure it is fully accessible and functional for every student on campus,” DiGiovanna, a Martel College junior, said. “That was a major, major oversight on the part of the administration, and we were deeply disappointed by that.” 

However DiGiovanna said that he is pleased with the newly installed accessible door.

“We are glad that the accessible door has been installed at Kraft,” DiGiovanna wrote in an email to the Thresher. “This greatly increases the accessibility of the building and will make it easier for many students to get to and from their classes there.”

Kraft Hall opened to students on Jan. 13, the first day of classes for the spring semester, and about 250 faculty members and staff moved into the building, according to Vossler. The building is still under construction as the crew finishes up landscaping and minor punch list items over the next couple weeks. He said the remaining grass will be placed on Feb. 20, and FE&P are awaiting a date for the installation for a second automatic door near the multipurpose room. 

“I think we’ve made a good effort to try to make this accessible,” Vossler said. “We’re not sending students or people with disabilities to a side door, like you may see on other buildings on campus. The front door is the accessible door for everybody, so we’re proud of that.”

At the first meeting of the Students with Disabilities Council during the second week of the semester, DiGiovanna brought the lack of automatic doors to the attention of the council. According to committee member Ariana Engles, the committee has reached out to Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration, to discuss the issues with Kraft Hall and general accessibility problems on campus. 

“For the first few weeks of class, it would’ve been really difficult for a student who was completely unassisted to get from their residential college to the building, and then up to whatever room they needed to go to, and that’s really concerning, because that’s just not inclusive,” Engles, a Lovett College senior, said.

Other than the uninstalled automatic doors, Engles said that when she visited the building to assess it for accessibility concerns herself, there were multiple tripping hazards and one of the elevators was out of service. DiGiovanna said some of the interior doors in Kraft Hall were also difficult to open. 

“We believe, considering the issues the older buildings have, it’s even more important for the new buildings to fully accommodate the needs of the students,” DiGiovanna said. “We want to invite the administration to work with us on the design of the new buildings to make sure they are fully compliant with the needs of the students, because there’s a big difference between [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant and disability functional.” 

According to Vossler, all the exterior doors on Kraft Hall passed the Texas Accessibility Standards regarding the amount of pull needed to access them when the building was first opened. Vossler said the building includes fully accessible restrooms, accessible break rooms for faculty on each floor and two elevators to ensure that there is an accessible elevator at all times. 

“They are following the letter of the ADA, but not the spirit,” DiGiovanna said. “It’s been three decades since the ADA was passed. I believe it is time for Rice to go above and beyond the ADA when they build new buildings.”

If students notice an accessibility issue at a building on campus, Vossler said that they should reach out to Housing and Dining, the Disability Resource Center or, for academic buildings, a dean’s office to remedy the problem. The Disability Resource Center can accommodate disabled students who cannot obtain access to their classrooms due to an accessibility issue with the building by moving the course to a more accessible classroom in another building, according to DiGiovanna. 

“A number of students have had a lot of difficulty getting to classes and labs because of accessibility issues with the older buildings at Rice, like Herzstein Hall,” DiGiovanna said. “I was forced to change majors due to the lack of accessibility for the physics labs.” 

Vossler said that while committees of students are sometimes given the chance to provide input on construction projects, no students were consulted in the construction of Kraft Hall. DiGiovanna said the Students with Disabilities Council was created to provide oversight and accountability, and they would like to work with the administration and the Disability Resource Center to make sure that disabled students have a voice in the construction process. 

“I think that if we’re talking about a $6 billion endowment school that’s building the Ion, we can afford to make our buildings accessible to any student,” Engles said. “Why not? We have so much. There’s no reason why any student with any accessibility concern should even have to worry about how to get to class. That shouldn’t even be a consideration.” 

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