|University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign photo|
The University of Illinois (Urbana Illinois) was a pioneer in making college accessible to people with disabilities, dating back to World War II.
article by Julie Wurth for The News-Gazette | 04/22/2017
But there's still a long list of improvements to be done to make outdoor areas of campus fully accessible, a new report shows.
A survey by the UI and its community transportation partners identified $1.1 million worth of improvements to campus-area sidewalks and building entryways needed to comply with updated standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
They include sidewalks cracked by tree roots or overgrown with weeds, entry thresholds that are too high and ramps that are too steep, among other problems.
"We're not in bad shape, but we do need to stay on top of these things and correct them," said Roland White, an engineer with UI Facilities and Services.
The UI adopted a plan in 1992 to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation and other areas.
The original focus was on ensuring buildings conformed to ADA requirements, with elevators, ramps, accessible restrooms and other accommodations.
But over the past decade, requirements for sidewalks and outdoor approaches to buildings were updated, White said. One example, visible throughout Champaign-Urbana: the red squares with bumps on sidewalks, "warning pads" to let those who are visually impaired know a street or ramp is ahead.
As a result, many agencies across the country are taking a fresh look at sidewalks and access routes, he said.
The UI owns and operates about 20 miles of public sidewalks and streets, which connect to many more miles owned by the cities of Urbana and Champaign.
The UI contracted with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission's transportation planning entity known as CUUATS — Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Study — to conduct the review for the entire university district, from University Avenue on the north to Curtis Road on the south. CUUATS includes the UI, Champaign, Urbana, Savoy, Champaign County and the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The effort was funded with a $250,000 grant through the Illinois Department of Transportation and completed last summer. It examined sidewalks, curb ramps and crosswalks, looking at the overall condition, size and slope, as well as pedestrian crosswalk signals.
UI Facilities and Services did its own assessment of walkways and entrances to UI facilities that connect to public sidewalks. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires at least one accessible route to each building from a drop-off point, such as a parking lot, bus stop or public street or sidewalk.
The UI identified 80 priority buildings where students with disabilities live, attend class or visit frequently, based on input from the public, the Chancellor's Committee on Access and Accommodations, University Housing and the Disability Resources and Education Services program, among others.
The review looked at the height of building thresholds; ramp dimensions, handrails and landings; obstructions such as hydrants, sidewalk grates and tree roots; and sidewalk cracks and heaving.
For example, entrance ramps higher than 6 inches have to have handrails on both sides. The surface has to be slip-resistant and free of cracks. Curb ramps and landings have to be at least 3 feet wide and have no cracks or obstructions. And stones make building entrances difficult for those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities.
The two surveys found almost 400 "deficiencies" on UI-owned property, half of them problems with the slope of ramps and sidewalks.
Some are simple — such as no sign being posted near an accessible entrance at the Education Building.
Others are more serious. At Freer Hall, walkways are cracked, handrails too low, an automatic door opener doesn't work, a ramp is too narrow and the slope is off.
The deficiencies are scattered across campus, at buildings old and new, including the newly renovated State Farm Center. White said the problems there are with the public sidewalks around the site, as the construction focused on the building itself and the interior walkways. Even the Rehabilitation Education Center has some ramps that aren't up to code.
White said ramps can settle over time, throwing off the slope, and some curb cuts on campus predate the 1990 federal accessibility law. Tree roots are the biggest culprit for sidewalks, causing them to heave or crack, and they can also be disrupted by construction and utility work.
The cost of the repairs is estimated at $1.17 million, which will be spread over 20 years. Facilities and Services plans to spend about $55,000 a year on the improvements.
The work is divided into three priority areas, with the most heavily used buildings being addressed within five years.
Priority 1 areas includes residence halls and other buildings used most frequently by disabled persons, such as Nugent Hall, McKinley Health Center, the Activities and Recreation Center, the Rehabilitation Education Center, Turner Student Services Center and the Center for Wounded Veterans.
Priority 2 includes 46 high-use public facilities and academic buildings, including the Armory, Foellinger Auditorium, the Library, Illini Union, Altgeld Hall, Lincoln Hall, the Music Building, Beckman Institute, State Farm Center, Memorial Stadium, several engineering buildings and other residence halls.
The final group consists of 16 high-use facilities and lecture halls, such as Everitt Lab, Loomis Lab, David Kinley Hall, the Psychology Lab, Burrill Hall, Bevier Hall, Turner Hall, the Seibel Center, the Business Instructional Facility and Orchard Downs housing complex.
White said the UI has been a leader in accessibility since Tim Nugent started working to provide access for wounded veterans returning from World War II. The campus provides an impressive array of services for students, he said.
"This is part of that effort," White said.
Share your thoughts
The University of Illinois' revised ADA Transition Plan will be presented at a public open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday (4/27/2017) in Room 2003 of the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building, 301 E. Gregory Drive, C.
The UI is also taking public comments on the report through June 30, 2017 on the Facilities and Services website.