Navigating the University of Richmond’s 99-year-old, hill-ridden campus can be difficult, tiring and complicated. One would think that going from class to class in a wheelchair could be even more difficult, but Cole Sydnor, a freshman who is in a wheelchair full-time, said “You wouldn’t be able to keep up with me.” Sydnor has a motorized wheelchair and he said that he could travel from Lakeview Hall to Gottwald Center for the Sciences, where he has three classes, in just four minutes.
The Office of Student Development works closely with Sydnor and all students with disabilities to plan their class schedules and locations. Although not all of the buildings on campus have elevators or ramps, Richmond is in compliance with the American Disability Act (ADA).
The ADA requires the university to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, which can include moving the class to a handicap -accessible building or floor.
“Are all of our facilities handicap accessible?” said Tinina Cade, associate vice president for Student Development and the university disability coordinator. “No, they aren’t. If we could start from scratch, we would make them to today’s standards.”
According to data from University Facilities, 21 buildings on campus are equipped with elevators and 32 buildings, including three apartments, have ramps or handicap-accessible entrances.
Often, the problem is not being in a particular building, but making sure that every student has an opportunity to take the classes that they want.
“Would it be reasonable for us to tear down this university to make it flat? No, it would not be reasonable, but we can provide access without tearing down the school,” Cade said.
Senior Mary Kate Frerichs, was in a manual wheelchair for six weeks last year after she had 23 stitches in her foot. She said Richmond’s hilly terrain made wheeling outside nearly impossible.
“I am not strong enough to wheel that thing,” Frerichs said. “So it would just be a hassle more for my friends because they had to push me every single place I went.”
During the time that she was injured, Frerichs had three classes in the Robins School of Business and one art class in the Modlin Center for the Arts. Frerichs said that she had rarely gone to her art class because navigating across campus was just too difficult.
“I would have to get driven there if I was going to go,” she said.
Sydnor has a power-assist manual wheelchair in addition to his motorized chair. Before he came to the university he primarily used his power-assist chair, which is a manual chair with electric support that helps him propel forward, causing less strain on his arms than a classic manual chair.
Sydnor said that using a manual chair to navigate around campus everyday would be too much for him, so he uses his motorized chair most days.
“It’s harder for the other students,” Sydnor said about traveling from Lakeview Hall up the hill to his class in North Court. “It doesn’t take much for me to push my toggle forward.”
Sydnor also has a remote control on the side of the chair that allows him to open the doors to academic buildings, his dorm and the Tyler Haynes Commons after it has closed.
“I’m the only student that can go in the Commons at night because there’s no other way to get from the Westhampton side to the Richmond side, for me,” Sydnor said.
This summer, Sydnor said that he worked with representatives from Facilities, Student Development and the Student Health Center to prepare him for his first semester of college.
“I was pretty involved over the summer,” Sydnor said. “There was a lot of communication back and forth to figure things out.”
The university tries to be vigilant about making sure that handicapped students can move around campus, Cade said.
“Every year, the university looks at its population and makes physical changes as needed,” Cade said, “because we’re caring, kind people and the federal government says that you have to provide access.”
This past summer, the university constructed a sidewalk ramp into the Marsh Hall entrance facing Wood Hall and also added an interior chair lift and remote door operator in Marsh Hall.
“Richmond has been amazing when it comes to doing whatever needs to be done,” Sydnor said.
Contact staff writer Brennan Long at firstname.lastname@example.org