Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The college just completed an out-of-court settlement with the Justice Department after a random check of Swarthmore facilities this summer showed that the campus was not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards that have been in place since 1992, including too-narrow doors, inaccessible round door knobs, too-steep ramps, a lack of visual fire alarms, inaccessible dorm rooms, and inaccessible performing arts spaces.
Swarthmore has been working to become compliant since 1992, but “it’s an old campus with old buildings on a hill,” as Director of Facilities Stu Hain put it, and so work has been slow going. “There’s an obligation to remove barriers from all of the college’s facilities when readily achievable… we’ve averaged half a million dollars working on that every year since 1992,” with renovations in Parrish, Kohlberg, and Trotter among others. All buildings built since 1992 are also compliant.
Why did the Justice Department come now? “They started looking at colleges in 2000,” explained Hain, “after a big settlement with Duke.”
The University of Colorado and the University of Chicago also recently completed out-of-court settlements. The Department of Justice cannot report whether there was a complaint or whether the check was purely random.
What the settlement means, says Hain, is that “they want us to go faster than we’ve been going… from now we have about six years to finish doing our work, and it’s faster than we would have done it otherwise. It just means we’ll have to spend money more quickly.” Money is already set aside for the renovations in the capital fund.
First in the process, the College has to survey the entire campus “and self-report what the problems are and what your plans to fix them are … we have to have that survey by late next fall,” specifically December 1, 2008. The College is also required to identify accessible routes through the campus, accessible parking areas, accessible entrances to buildings, and accessible spaces within buildings on its website by September 1, 2008.
Once the survey is in, Facilities will know the full extent of the work to be done, all of which must be completed by October 1, 2013.
Projects already planned for this summer are accessible entrances to Bond Hall and Lodges 5 and 6, which “will allow us to do further path work in that courtyard.” Facilities will also be re-routing the path from Willets to Sharples because it’s currently too steep for wheelchairs.
Facilities also has to ensure that there is assisted listening in all classrooms with over 50 seats, and dauntingly, make 3 percent of dorm beds accessible in a representative sample of housing. This means that Alice Paul and David Kemp alone won’t cut it.
“We’ll focus on Willets and on Dana-Well and on Parrish… we already have elevators, but bathrooms will have to be upgraded, and there are certain requirements for how much room you need.”
Hain emphasized that working with the Justice Department has “been as nice as it could possibly be… it’s been a really cooperative thing. We know that this is consistent with our mission, it’s just always about trade-offs.”
A copy of the full settlement can be found here.
Photograph by Miles Skorpen