Most individuals can easily navigate IE Tower. However, the Segovian campus, a historic site set apart for learning, poses a unique challenge. IE management’s efforts to modernize Convento de Santa Cruz la Real are appreciated, but accessibility difficulties in the university must be acknowledged.
Total accessibility accounts for the entire journey of arriving at, entering, and interacting with the services of any given institution. Our campus meets the minimum requirements for accessibility. Wheelchair users can access the sunken level of the university down a ramp connected to the rotunda. They then enter the building through the Student Services door, where an extra wheelchair awaits just in case. Finally, they can connect to other floors with an elevator.
To an outside observer, this might constitute a fully accessible building. However, slippery floors and tight corners make it nearly impossible to navigate the school alone. As Quynh Nguyen Truc noted, she “preferred to walk on crutches, even though it [was] a little bit painful,” because she didn’t want to burden other students.
Ana Herrera, along with a group of colleagues, analyzed wheelchair accessibility throughout the building for a class on Psychology & User-Centered Design. They used the wheelchair from Student Services to conduct research. The students investigated which parts of the university are easily accessible from a wheelchair and where they would require assistance. They concluded that wheelchair users at IE lack independence. The ramp down to the parking lot is narrow enough to be dangerous. The door to Student Services is locked from the inside, so they must call to go in every time. Everything, it seems, requires these individuals to give up some level of autonomy.
Furthermore, some classroom layouts are impractical to maneuver through. Tight rows separated by a single step sentence wheelchair users to the front. Ana remarked, “ they have enough space to turn around and fit themselves under the tables.” Her group proposed a solution: tables that open up to let wheelchair users easily slide underneath them. By considering wheelchair measurements and implementing it against re-spacing efforts, the design solves the main problems of inaccessible seating.
Permanently solving accessibility issues proves difficult in light of the convent’s status as an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC). National legislation mandates minimum accessibility requirements in public and private buildings. However, BIC laws, designed to protect the essence of historically significant structures, take precedence. Law 16/1985 prohibits most “modifications to the existing alignments and slopes… and, in general, any changes that affect the overall harmony” of the building. The BIC’s supervising autonomous community must approve any permanent installations before construction. The process can be costly and slow without necessarily producing a result.
Due to these barriers, the community needs to focus on non-permanent solutions such as the adaptable tables previously mentioned. Atieno Ayieko Sihanya has witnessed her classmates struggle through uni with physical injuries. She believes the answer is to allow such students to attend class online. She explained, “with certain injuries, you can’t even walk to school, so you’re taking taxis twice a day.” Quynh confirmed, “everything is expensive, especially when you’re injured… I tried to minimize costs by not going anywhere besides university and home.” IE does not negotiate online attendance, even for injured students, until they surpass the 30% authorized absences. Although the policy aims to enforce student participation and respect for professors’ time, it can ultimately be detrimental to students who need time to recover.
Segovia as a city is just as impractical. The city has created employment and educational opportunities to support disabled citizens, and modified public transport to accommodate wheelchair users. However, these efforts aren’t enough to easily navigate Segovia. So, is it worth investing more effort into accessibility in IE? Of course. IE’s mission is to become a prominent sustainability model for other universities. Despite the societal barriers it faces, IE has the resources and opportunity to innovate functional and cost-effective solutions on campus. This can further extend its influence outside of university walls.
IE’s Sustainability office will launch an accessibility initiative for all types of disabilities this year. They plan to assess the university’s needs, and create an action plan to target facilities and classroom technologies. To meet these goals, student participation is necessary to voice community concerns. The most direct way to do so is by proposing an IE-focused project at the Sustainability Town Hall. Winning proposals will receive €1,000 to implement a prototype into one of IE’s campuses. The next town hall will be on March 13, and the deadline for submission on their website is the eighth.
We live in an increasingly independent society in which residing without a disability is a privilege. As we move forward, we must recognize that those without that same privilege deserve to enjoy life at the same level. Maximizing possibilities is the only way to achieve impactful, positive change; we settle for the minimum.