UF gets top marks for wheelchair accessibility on campus

UF was recognized as a top ten wheelchair-friendly university campus by New Mobility Magazine. In the magazine's Wheel on Campus guide, UF is commended for its accessible spaces across campus, with special recognition to the J. Wayne Reitz Union and Housing and Residence Life's Cypress Hall.

In this edition of the guide, editors developed a rubric that included wheelchair-inclusive criteria like adaptive sports recreation, wheelchair repair options, nearby rehabilitation facilities, and community support.

Editors recognized UF as "a top-value major university with excellent accessibility." UF has 100% building accessibility, which means people who use wheelchairs can enter all UF buildings independently.

"The recognition is a testament to the work of the students, work that has been done since the 70s," said Gerardo Altamirano, assistant dean and director for UF's Disability Resource Center. "Access has been driven by students, and our students are the advocates who have shifted the culture at UF."

When renovating buildings or planning for the future, building equal physical access points starts with the beginning conceptualization of design. UF architect Cydney McGlothlin has worked to ensure that UF spaces have more than just the basic ADA requirements. 

"It's not just about compliance," Altamirano said. "It's about our moral and ethical obligation to make sure everyone has access, and from the conception point thinking intentionally about how to create programs and spaces for diverse embodiments."

The Wheels on Campus guide highlights the J. Wayne Reitz Union renovation, and the space shows how campuses can construct equitable spaces in a number of ways. The main entrances have push panels that activate doors to open automatically, more single-stall restrooms were added, and the gradation of the entrance was adjusted to eliminate the previously existing stairs. Plus, the main elevators and main stairwell face one another, and as people travel between floors, they can see one another from both the glass back of the elevator and the open atrium where the stairs are.

"Our physical spaces mirror our feelings about the world," Altamirano said. "For example if our accessible doors are all in the back of the building, what does that say to our students?"

Building a campus community mindset around equity is as important as building accessible physical spaces, Altamirano said. He credits his staff in the Disability Resource Center for their work being vocal on campus, and said building a community of equity and acceptance is a campus-wide responsibility. In that, UF becomes a leader for universities across the country.

Cypress Hall is one of the ways UF is leading the way and is a model for accessible dorms and built-in community. It is designed to house up to 255 students with disabilities, has parking and lounge space for personal care assistants, houses a DRC office, and offers a wide-range of community programming. Plus, Florida's flat landscape and mild winters means students don't have as much to worry about when getting around.

"It's always nice to be recognized, but that's not why we do it," McGlothlin said. "We do it to make the campus the best we can be. Campus needs to reflect the values of the university."

Emily Cardinali December 15, 2020