Campus construction is significantly slowing down students with disabilities.
Much of the construction at Liberty University has led to inconveniences for students and faculty. These obstacles are heightened for students who are physically disabled, whether temporarily or permanently.
LU Senior Moriah Backhaus uses a wheelchair and has found that navigating campus has become more of a challenge since construction increased.
“Life on campus has become increasingly difficult during my time at Liberty,” Backhaus said “I hope to see a change not only for myself, but for future students.”
She says adjustments have been made for disabled students like herself, but she must often take detours that add up to 15 minutes to her trip to class.
One of these detours is the new ramp that has been built to the lower level of the library. Students who are unable to take the stairs must use this ramp to go through the library and exit from the main library doors. Backhaus says that this route has caused her trouble in the past.
“It is way too steep,” Backhaus said. “Myself and a friend of mine have both gotten hurt on it because of this.”
The Office of Disability Accommodation Support (ODAS) aims to work closely alongside students with such disabilities in order to make Liberty a welcoming and accessible place. Dr. Jacqueline Johnson, director of residential students in ODAS, acknowledges the obstacles these students are facing.
“I believe the change of traffic patterns and walkways has been the main challenge,” Johnson said. “LU has been proactive in trying to respect our ODAS students by communicating with our office to make us aware of changes, so we can relay that information to our students.”
ODAS receives weekly reminders of campus events as well as monthly updates on construction. At least once a month, they also have phone conferences with Vice President of Planning and Construction Daniel Deter. Dr. Johnson cites Luke 10:27 as being a verse they look to on how we are to treat one another.
“As a Christian institution, we personally invest and care beyond policies and procedures to minister to our students’ whole being: body, mind, and spirit,” Johnson said.
Johnson says that safety easily comes before expediency when it comes to these temporary detours. She encourages disabled students to come directly to ODAS with any of their concerns about construction obstacles.
“Students are always welcome to come and meet with ODAS staff or faculty to discuss their concerns,” Johnson said. “We are their current advocate, and we tell them this when we meet with them.”
ODAS has several programs in place in an effort to best serve students.
Within the Liberty app, ODAS students have access to an on demand shuttle that will transport them anywhere on campus they request. Students can also fulfill their CSER hours by being paired with an ODAS student for the semester.
Backhaus is happy with her experience at Liberty, but she hopes that the difficulties wheelchair users face on campus will soon be resolved.
“Accessibility is a topic that needs to be discussed but rarely is,” Backhaus said. “(People in wheelchairs) are just like anyone else. We just need to do things a little differently. Given those accommodations, we can thrive.”
Vandenbrink is a Liberty News reporter.