Accessibility in Downtown State College


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A green ramp provides an accessible access point to a doorway.

Anthony Fitzgerald, Staff Writer

Accessibility and mobility go hand and hand. While we use buildings by means of entering and exiting every day, we don’t often take a moment to notice the absence of accessibility within our communities. State College. It is common for people to view walking up stairs  as  ¨conveniences¨ due to us not even batting an eye or giving any thought to these issues.


With a focus on inclusion, the need for easier accessibility is urgent. Mobility is what universally connects us even through unstable waters.Solutions like public funding can give people the reassurance needed that they are being considered. These small actions by means of improvement can be a few options available to diversify public places.


Personal awareness requires one to think about their own actions. To know someone is thinking about them, and their safety, can make all the difference. People want to know in the back of their mind, that they’re being thought of and included in any inclusive environment. They shouldn’t feel as if they’re taking a risk every time they enter public spaces.

For many, walking can take years of therapy, painful surgeries, and ongoing strength and stretching routines just to manage to do what able people take for granted


No one wants to struggle.


 The act of walking is a simple, thoughtless act to many. Whether we are simply walking down the street or getting a bite to eat, we don’t often think of these things. This usually is what results as an afterthought, an inconvenience even, for some people. We must remember that walking up a few stairs could be like walking up 20 flights of stairs to someone who physically isn’t used to having to walk up them. 


Public access downtown has been scarce for the past few years in State College. Other than the Nittany Mall and a few small businesses, many places are not designed with ramps or any sort of public access. This causes a number of unnecessary struggles. It is important to note we have the ability to make people’s lives easier and the environment we are in gives us the opportunity to make change. 


The weather plays a huge role in public access as well. It could be freezing rain, causing surfaces to get slippery, so if someone decides to go up the steps, they run the risk of falling and causing serious injury.


 We must implement a new plan to provide safe access to any building that is not accommodating or accessible for those who may be wheelchair bound or use four-arm crutches. Without improvements like these, inaccessible spaces can pose a major challenge.


Micheal Carroll, the acting secretary of The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) says that they are focused on reaching the goal of improving public access, however, it can be difficult to put these plans in place with the current infrastructure of State College. 


¨While it is our goal to move forward with this project, it takes time. While our intention is to create an inclusive environment for our local commuters within State College, we believe with our current infrastructure it can pose many challenges with limited space.¨ Carrol Said. ¨Despite these challenges, we plan on teaming up with other agencies within our county to ensure public accessibility. The State College Borrow and The Centre Region Council of Governments has ensured a plan to further assist in this project.¨


 Inclusion is essential in creating a safe, connected community within State College. Having more ramps and or accessible walkways would allow people to have far less worrying factors like, ¨How much strength will it take me to pull this huge door open with a four-arm crutch on my arm?¨ or ¨Is it worth it to have to walk up all these stairs?It is a tiring feeling that would  most likely leave you exhausted at the end of the day. 


The environment is crucial for someone with a disability. People have to consider whether it is a good idea to live or work in a place that is not easily accessible and that requires consideration. This determines the way in which people live. It is an unsafe game to play when you decide to do something anyway because a building doesn’t have an accessible ramp. People don’t want to be unsafe. The fact that there are no other ways to access certain buildings without walking up the steps can be discouraging.


Dr. SeriaShia Chatters is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Counselor Education in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education at The Penn State University and the former Director of Equity and Inclusivity of the State College Area School District. She believes that we have to consider what happens beyond the ramp when an individual gets to the door. 


¨The concept of radical accessibility indicates that an individual who may have a different way that they get around day-to-day, should have access to a building within the same amount of distance as an individual who is able to walk or utilize other forms of mobility that allow them to navigate stairs.” Chatters said ¨An example of this could be seen previously if a student had to get from Delta to the high school. At one point a student would have had to go way out of their way in order to be able to find the accessible spaces to be able to navigate across the street. This concern adds an undue amount of time on an individual merely because they have to navigate the world in a manner that does not include stairs or steps. There are a number of stores downtown (can’t think of their names off of the top of my head) that are difficult to access using a wheelchair. Additionally the unevenness of sidewalks downtown can make them difficult to navigate with a wheelchair, walker, or for those who are visually impaired and utilize a white cane or service animal. I think we have to consider what happens beyond the ramp when an individual gets to the door. The high school and several other school buildings still do not have a way for an individual to automatically open the door. Even within the high school, there are several heavy doors (doors to the auditoriums) that are not automated. The lack of this accommodation significantly impacts individuals who utilize wheelchairs and those who may have experienced limb loss, have cerebral palsy or have difficulty opening heavy doors. Are there buildings that have ramps that really cause individuals who utilize wheelchairs to have to go way out-of-the-way in order to get into or out of a building?¨


 She believes that establishing this issue at the local level would not only create a positive outcome for our community with a prime focus on inclusion, but it would benefit many others.