History vs. Accessibility
Georgetown University, founded in 1789, displays some magnificent architecture; the buildings, with an average age of 70 years old, exhibit a unique historical style. However, the historical nature of this campus and its location on the “Hilltop” greatly hinder advancement towards complete mobile accessibility.
Many of the buildings on campus were completed far before the Americans With Disabilities Act came into law in 1990, including 11 dormitories. Since then, the Georgetown administration has been forced to play a never-ending game of catch up to make the space as accessible as possible.
While the university has made some vast improvements – retroactively adding ramps, automatic doors, and a new, accessible dorm rooms – a recent audit of the Georgetown Academic Resource Center points out that the administration still has a long way to go. The external review evaluated the ARA, the main resource for student athletes and students with disabilities, and noted some egregious flaws in the way Georgetown deals with accessibility issues.
The social model of disability states that disability is due to a lack of fit between one’s body and the environment. In accordance to this model, students with physical disabilities are not disabled by the impairment itself; instead, these students are actually disabled by Georgetown’s terrain, infrastructure, administration, and social environment.
The following photo essay illustrates how Georgetown University is disabling to those with mobility impairments.
A Snapshot of Accessibility
According to the social model of disability, Georgetown should remedy the campus environment to be more accessible and accepting of mobility disabilities. How can the university go about this?
The external audit of the Academic Resource Center offers many suggestions to improve the way the administration deals with disability. Some of the most important points include increasing staff, revising the responsibilities of staff members, making the ARC’s space more accessible, and increasing the use of technology to more efficiently handle student cases. A full copy of the report can be viewed here.
To improve physical accessibility, the university should continue to install ramps and maintain the reliability of elevators and automatic door buttons. Additionally, future development should be considerate of mobility needs. Unfortunately, due to the terrain and age of some of the complexes on campus, it is impossible to make all spaces completely accessible.
While the improvement of administrative and physical accessibility on campus may be limited by the allocation and politics of university money, the social environment on campus can potentially be addressed without as much funding. At Georgetown, students tend to fixate on the idea of excellence and perfection, perpetuating a culture of ableism and normalcy. Student groups, programming, or participation in disability studies can be helpful in dismantling this culture in hopes that imperfections and impairments will be more socially normalized.
The images in this photo essay have been inspired by passages excerpted from the following articles:
Accessibility Push Faces Tricky Terrain from The Hoya
Progress Is Slow on Disability Access from The Hoya
ARC Weaknesses Revealed from The Hoya
Georgetown Makes Progress on Disability, But Continues to Fail from the Autistic Hoya
Going Nowhere: My Life In a Wheelchair from the Independent
*The citations for the sources used in this project can be viewed via this link.