Accessibility issues: ADA Operators across campus down for months without repair

Photo by Niamh Brennan

In May 2023, multiple Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) operators across the Boise State campus were down, some down for months on end. The ADA operators are used to automatically open the entrances to buildings for those who are unable to open it themselves. This prompted the Arbiter to individually check ADA operators across campus and look into the process for maintaining them.  

According to Barbara Beagles, executive director of Boise State’s Facilities Operations and Maintenance, all ADA operators get priority. ADA operators are checked once a year as part of preventative maintenance.

“[They break] very rarely, in fact, so infrequently. I don’t even know that I have even ever seen a bill come through that I had to approve to replace one,” Beagles said. “We would know immediately. I can’t fathom that we would go a day without knowing that an ADA operator was not working in one of our buildings.”

Despite this, the Brady Parking Garage operator was down for at least two months and operators in the Multipurpose Classroom Building and the Liberal Arts building were down for an unknown amount of time. The ADA operators for the main entrance of the Administration building were down for multiple weeks while the entrance was undergoing construction. 

In an email to the Arbiter, Beagles stated she was unaware of the operators being down at the time. 

According to Ro Parker, the director of the Student Equity Center, not being able to use ADA operators prevents students from being able to be independent. 

“[It] prevents them from accessing a building in a way that feels independent and that feels humane,” Parker said. “Their connection to their independence is super important.”

Parker has arthritis and occasionally uses ADA operators as well. According to her, lack of easy access to buildings can impact whether students feel included on campus.

“If I’m constantly running up against buttons that aren’t working, I’m going to think, well, the institution doesn’t really care about people that have differences in ability,” Parker said. “So I think that it goes beyond just not being able to open the door.”

The ADA operators have since been fixed. According to Joseph Smiga, a foreman at Joe Smiga Lockshop, the university prioritizes ADA operators after an issue has been reported, and the operators can be fixed within a few days.

According to Beagles, most operators go down after too much “wear and tear”, but can also be from students abusing the operator buttons.

“Sometimes people kick buttons in or they’re goofing off and they do things that they don’t necessarily think are going to cause us problems, but they do end up causing us problems,” Beagles said. “So that can be one reason why we might have buttons that don’t work. Aside from that, these things are pretty failsafe and we do a preventative maintenance program.”

In addition to ADA operators being down, students have also mentioned signs near elevators that are ableist, that read “Step it up, take the stairs”.

“Obviously it’s geared towards people to get more exercise, but if you physically aren’t able to that can have a toll with the message it sends. I think about people who have more invisible disabilities and may not be able to use the stairs,” Parker said. “I think it kind of is meant to shame people into using the stairs. But I think that the way it’s phrased tends to not be as inclusive and it tends to ostracize or marginalize other people unintentionally.”

These signs are still up next to several elevators across campus.

According to Parker, the university is also working on incorporating the concept of universal design in its architecture. Universal design is the concept that design features created to make areas more accessible also benefit those it wasn’t designed for.

“So for example, you know, with the little dips in the sidewalk, [those] are supposed to be for the people in wheelchairs. But of course, other people would [use it] like some moms with strollers,” Parker said. “They weren’t necessarily built for those types of populations, but the idea of universal design is that it’s built to include everyone.” 

According to Smiga, Boise State is working on improving accessibility by adding more disability friendly handles in the Education building and in the Honors College. Boise State also allocates around $100,000 for classroom and student housing accommodations, according to Wendy Turner, the former director of the Educational Access Center.

“I think the more access you have to things, the more options you have to enrich your life to get the things that you need, in order to to achieve your goal, especially at Boise State, accessibility is huge. It’s huge for students,” Parker said. “I think we need to start thinking differently about it. It’s not wrong or bad. It’s different.”

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