Mills College will be altering 296 items on campus to make them more accessible to people with disabilities.
The structural changes will be made in order to bring the college in to compliance with a settlement agreement reached following two years of discussion between the college and the United States Justice Department.
The Justice Department began an investigation after they received a complaint alleging Mills violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
Renee Jadushlever, Mills Chief of Staff and Vice President of Operations, said that when the investigation began, the school was immediately open to the discussions, which are relatively routine and are taking place on campuses across the country.
“We are very pleased with how these discussions went and we are looking forward to creating a more accessible campus,” Jadushlever said.
Mel Petricko, a junior and ASMC Senator at Large, is also looking forward to the changes.
“It’s challenging to get around on this campus sometimes,” Petricko, who is disabled, said. “And it’s time consuming. I’m often running late or even missing class.”
Petricko recalled an incident when she was forced to miss class because the elevator at Kimball House was broken.
“That was really frustrating,” she said. “But I could say it’s my whole life, not just Mills.”
In fact, she said, Mills is at least on par with other institutions she has been to. Even “ADA approved” locations have their issues. And when she does encounter a violation of the ADA guidelines on the Mills campus, she said the administration has been quick to fix the issue.
“When I ask [for a change] they are responsive and committed to getting it right,” she said.
The college denies violating any disability laws, but has agreed to make such changes as adding more wheelchair accessibility, grab bars in showers and changing toilet flush controls from the top of the toilet to the side. Most of the changes must be finished by the end of 2014, while others will not be required until 2023.
According to Jadushlever, the majority of accessibility-related renovations are only minor adjustments and will be easily fixed. Others, like wheelchair ramps, will take more time and will require hiring outside contractors.
As of now, the overall cost of the changes is not known.
“Right now the school is just pricing out what needs to be done by when,” Jadushlever said. “But we can’t project the cost of things 10 years from now.”
The settlement agreement requires annual check-ins between the school and the Justice Department, which will take place every December 31st until all the changes are complete.
“It’s an ongoing discussion,” Jadushlever said.
Mills Hall is partially exempt from adjustments due to its status as a California historical landmark and is on a separate set of guidelines. Though some doors in the building are narrower than required, they cannot be widened due to concerns about historic preservation. Instead, the settlement states that the school must relocate classes when necessary to be accessible to disabled students and faculty.
“Each site is it’s own challenge,” Petricko said. “I’m just looking forward to large continuing changed over time.”
Petricko is hoping this settlement will open a dialogue about accessibility on campus, and is looking forward to helping where she can.
“As a member of ASMC, I’m always looking for collective ways to make Mills a better community,” she said.
Jadushlever echoed this sentiment.
“Mills is dedicated to making sure visitors and the community have equal access to all facilities,” she said. “And we are pleased that the Justice Department commended us in our efforts.”