Disabled Student Pushes For More Accessibility At Florida State University

May 31, 2019

Vicky Potter presents at TEDxFSU to speak about accessibility for disabled students on campus.
Credit Courtesy of Vicky Potter / TEDxFSU

Florida State University came under scrutiny when a student began a Twitter thread calling out what she says is a lack of accessibility for disabled students on campus.

Vicky Potter is a sophomore at Florida State University. She uses a wheel chair part-time and needs to park in ADA spaces. ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities.

Potter says students without disabilities often take advantage of ADA spaces, “They think if you put on your hazard lights and you’re gone for five minutes that it is okay, and it’s not.”

Potter says it can be difficult getting people illegally parked in ADA spaces to move, “I feel really bad because I turn on my indicator and hope they notice me and half the time they don’t and then I have to honk and I feel really bad, and then if they don’t move after that I like have to physically get out of my car and ask, and it’s just… I hate doing that."

Jennifer Mitchell heads FSU’s Student Disability Resource Center. She says education will be important in tackling the issue, “How do we educate the campus community about accessibility? How do we make people aware about what are those implications? What does that mean if you’re parking in a space that you don’t need?”

Mitchell hosts a disability awareness week in October to try educating students about accessibility, but the turnout is low.

“Students. Peer to peer. I think that is the best way you learn. We can say things, I can say things until I’m blue in the face but I think it resonates more when it’s coming from your peers," Mitchell says.

Potter says the problem is not just with the students but faculty and staff as well, “They just had like cars, like golf carts, and cars all over that area and they were like in the space and like blocking the space.”

Those issues eventually led her to meet with a dean to discuss her concerns, but she was disappointed with a lack of results. After almost two semesters with no change, Potter took to Twitter.

“I had a lot of people saying like you know, I didn’t know this was an issue. Which like, resonated with me because I didn’t get sick until I was senior year in high school.” Potter continues, “I didn’t have friends in wheelchairs. I did not have disabled friends. Nobody talked about it. Like, you know, it wasn’t—it wasn’t a thing that you saw—it wasn’t—we weren’t taught about accessibility like, I never thought about it once,” says Potter.

Potter says not all disabilities are visible, making it hard to see other students like her and raise awareness. After posting on Twitter, Jennifer Mitchell with the SDRC reached out to her.

“She was like I want you to cohost this open forum and she was like when is the best day that works for you. You pick the day and time and we will be there and I was like, wow, like, this is the most that has got done. She asked me to pick the date and time that I could do and they were going to work around me. Like, that never happened before, especially for a disabled person. People do not work around you. They work and they kind of include you in after the fact,” says Potter.

Mitchell invited the whole campus, including student government as well as school administrators and FSU facilities.

“Out of the forum, what I really wanted to stress with everyone was if they see that something’s not accessible, report it to our office,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell says to contact her directly if a student is having accessibility issues on campus. The SDRC partners with FSU Facilities to get things like push buttons and curb cuts installed. Push buttons open doors when pressed and curb cuts are ramps cut into the sidewalk. FSU Facilities’ Amy Browning says the college will install curb cuts and push buttons if a student needs them.

“They’re not legally required so that’s why you probably don’t see them on every door, but we add them as a courtesy when requested," says Browning.

Potter did report needing accessibility into her dorm, but it was through housing, not the SDRC.

“I specifically spoke to housing to tell them that I was a part-time wheel chair user and that I needed a push button," says Potter.

She was placed in a building without a push button. Eventually, the device was installed on a door, but as Potter tells it: “Of course it’s the one I don’t enter on.”

Meanwhile, Browning says an accessibility route map will go live in the summer.

“It’s a map that shows the best accessibility route on campus," Browning says, "We have mapped the location of all the exterior door openers. Where all the handicapped parking spaces are."