Understanding Accessibility At Manhattan

By Zoe DeFazio, Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor

While taking a closer look into accessibility at Manhattan College there were a lot of factors to consider such as mandates set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504. ADA and Section 504 specifically prohibit discrimination based on disability. 

New York City is home to many historical landmarks with preserved streets, buildings and construction. While assessing its many parts on how accessible MC is, it’s important to look at all the boroughs and its history.

At one point in time, NYC was mainly cobblestone streets and stone pavers. With the city evolving and its gentrification, the area has changed to be easier to navigate, but how far has MC gone to improve its accessibility?

Sonny Ago, assistant vice president of student life, raised awareness about NYC’s structure and how it can impact MC students.

“The one concern that we have as a community, to be quite honest with you, is that the 242 subway station is not handicap accessible,” Ago said. “So there is no elevator at that station. So in terms of our students who might commute that are either temporarily or permanently disabled, they can’t get off at 242nd Street to actually access our campus.”

The Quadrangle previously released “A Look Into Accessibility At Manhattan” by former Editor-In-Chief and MC alum, Gabriella DePinho, in 2018.

In the 2018 story, DePinho dived into the past of Manhattan College’s construction that took place in 1922, before The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. 

The Specialized Resource Center (SRC) is considered a measure that students can take to satisfy any needs regarding temporary or permanent disabilities.

“We continue to assess access on an individual basis through an interactive process with each student who is eligible for ADA/504 accommodations. We work with the appropriate departments on campus (public safety, counseling, residence life, health services, etc.) to coordinate a plan that complies legally and meets the needs of the student”, said Anne Vaccaro, director of the Specialized Resource Center.

The SRC works to accommodate students’ schedules and dining issues that are tailored to their personal needs.

“A student may apply for dietary accommodations through our website. We then work with the student, residence life, health services, and Aramark to coordinate appropriate and reasonable accommodations,” said Vaccaro.

As helpful as the SRC may be, there isn’t a lot of advertisement for the center as opposed to other centers with countless daily emails.  Many students may be unaware of the SRC and the specific resources it offers. It can be hard for a new or pending MC student to be aware of the resources that MC can provide.  

“Students, in general, have expressed a concern with ‘information overload’ via college email,” Vaccaro said. “We provide informational emails for our registered students on a weekly basis. We can certainly explore adding updates to our webpage for the general student population.  There would be a significant difference as to what information is pertinent to our  students as opposed to the student body as a whole.” 

Without proper and constant advertisement students can be highly unaware that there is a safe space to be utilized regarding academic or physical disability. 

“The hesitancy is not for lack of information, rather a personal choice by a student to self-identify as an individual with a disability. We, as the Manhattan College community,  encourage students to utilize our department without compromising any confidentiality,” said Vaccaro. 

Manhattan College’s Public Safety office enforces and ensures safety among the campus community for all students. Pete DeCaro, director for public safety, advises students to use the SRC in order to coordinate a plan in which students can remain safe and secure within themselves. 

“Security in the residence halls will always be a priority at Manhattan College,” said DeCaro.

In the middle of the spring semester of 2021, Manhattan College announced that the bridge entrances from the dormitory buildings, Horan Hall and Lee Hall, would remain closed until further notice, with the exception of move-in weekend for the following fall semester. 

The decision to keep the entrances closed did not go over well for the majority of Manhattan College’s student body, with a petition being created on change.org at the beginning of the fall semester of 2021. The petition has over 431 signatures and two comments from current students addressing their frustration. 

The petition states “According to nyc.gov not having a secondary building exit is a legitimate fire safety hazard.” and “Lee and Horan Halls are currently ADA non-compliant.” 

Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel, interim vice president of student life, went on to talk about the bridges and the misconceptions that surround them.  

“The bridges are fairly misunderstood. There are a variety of different issues at play right now with the bridges. I’ll start with the one that I hope is temporary, and that’s COVID,” said Abreu. “ So when it comes to COVID, we’re checking green passes, and at the main entry. So it seems senseless, obviously, for individuals then to be able to bypass the safeguards that we put in place for all protections via contagion and spread, if we are then entering through bridges unchecked it just wouldn’t make any sense. There’s some good news on the horizon, and we will not have that restraint.” 

The bridge exits are not emergency exits but rather an extra exit for the dormitory buildings. The actual place to direct and assess a student emergency is located on the staircases of the buildings with the illuminated signs. 

“We do have an ADA Committee, and the specialized resource center would be the hub making those conversations about [accessibility] possible. And usually, we involve quite a bit of folk and stakeholders from all around campus,” Abreu-Hornbostel said. 

With advisement from Manhattan College’s ADA committee, both suite buildings are deemed ADA compliant.

As ADA compliant as this may be, it may not be the safest nor the smartest option for students who may occupy those buildings. 

On February 2, three out of the four elevators at Horan Hall remained offline for 18 consecutive hours. Residents who live in Horan Hall can only live on floors five to 11 due to previous issues. All students who inhabit that building had to walk up from five to 11 flights of stairs during those 18 hours without even having the possibility of having the bridge entrances open. 

“If a student in the residence halls has a temporary disability they should communicate with the Manhattan College Specialized Resource Center. Any student who has difficulty evacuating a building, when warranted, should call Public Safety immediately at 718-862-7333 for assistance,” DeCaro said.

Jovanni Rodriguez, a senior communications major, is a student at Manhattan College with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. AMC is a condition where an individual has curved joints and is unable to move. If Rodriguez waas to stay in one position for a long time his body will mold and hold onto that one position.

Rodriguez has undergone 29 medical procedures in his lifetime in hopes to help his disability and his health overall. Along with multiple procedures, Rodriguez uses a power chair to aid his mobility. His caretaker, Sonia, accompanies Rodriguez on campus and throughout his day-to-day life.

“I remember when I mentioned that I wanted to go to Manhattan College, everyone pretty much shot it down, because of its placement on a hill. I went to Accepted Students Day. And what I can say is that it didn’t look accessible. And so I think that discouraged me a lot. But being a student, now, I can say that it is pretty accessible. I can get everywhere,” said Rodriguez

Rodriguez can transport himself throughout campus using his power chair through pathways and regular routes that most students use today. He takes advantage of the ramps on campus and takes certain detours to get from one hall to another. 

“I think the misconception is that it’s not accessible because of how it looks from the outside.  If you look at the layout and see what it looks like, I think disabled students would be discouraged because they don’t know where to go.”

Rodriguez encourages MC to provide more information for future students with physical disabilities on how students can access routes to different buildings for an easier navigation process.

“I wish they made it more clear, like the path  I can take to get from point A to point B, without having to figure it all out by myself,” Rodriguez said. “When I was a freshman I had to sort of figure out ‘how can I get here?’ But now it’s all fine. I’m a senior, and I know how to get everywhere.”

Initially, Rodriguez planned on attending MC as a residential student, rather than a commuter, which he happens to be now. Rodriguez describes a situation regarding a dorm hall that limited his desire of living on campus.

“When I first applied to MC, I wanted to dorm but it was something that just doesn’t work,” Rodriguez said. “Like, I remember my first year, I had a couple of friends that had invited me to go watch something cool with them. When I arrived at their dorm hall, there was literally no way for me to enter the building. So you know, that made it really discouraging. I don’t think I’ve ever been in any dorm buildings on campus.”

Rodriguez also commented on the issue regarding Horan Hall’s elevator incident. Rodriguez verbalized the significance of the situation. If a student who is physically disabled resided in Horan hall when three elevators were offline it could impose an issue regarding personal life and academic life.

Rodriguez reflects on his time at MC and encourages students and staff to look closely at accessibility issues. 

“I don’t think accessibility is a topic of conversation, and I truly believe that it needs to start being one,” said Rodrigues. “And not only from a school standpoint, because ultimately, I think for a lot of disabled students, accessibility is also what determines where they go, to get their education. And sometimes it’s tricky. They could be at the place that they wanted to go. But they can’t navigate because of obstacles. And as a person with a disability, I’ve faced a lot of obstacles in my life. And I’m not one to let that obstacle stop me. And I know of a lot of people with disabilities who also feel the same way. And I do think that we bring a lot to the table if given the opportunity. I mean, we can change the world. I stand firmly behind that. I just wish that people took accessibility more into thought and worked with us personally, to see what works and what doesn’t.”