BY OLIVIA MARBLE ’21
The day before my friend and I planned to audition for a cappella, we decided to rehearse together. We went to Pratt to use one of the practice rooms, but when we got there, all of the rooms on the first floor were full. For most students, this would not be a problem because there are plenty of other practice rooms in the basement of the building. But my friend had ankle surgery, leaving him unable to use stairs — the only way to access the basement.
Despite this minor setback, I decided to try to find a way to get him down there. The side door to the basement is at the bottom of a grassy hill, so I put my arm around his shoulder and helped him down, praying that he would not slip and fall and injure his ankle again. Once we made it to the bottom of the hill, there was still a small set of stairs leading to the door. He hopped on one foot down each step until he finally made it to the bottom, where I was waiting in case I needed to catch him.
According to Massachusetts law, “every part of every facility need not necessarily be accessible. Instead, the programs, activities and services when viewed in their entirety must be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.” One could argue that the building abides by this law because not every part of it needs to be accessible, and the lack of an accessible entrance to the basement does not prevent people with physical disabilities from having access to all the same musical services.
But that’s not quite true. The practice rooms on the main floor are simply not big enough for many ensembles, including sectionals for orchestra, quartets or a cappella groups. One of the practice rooms in the basement holds all the drums, so student percussionists can only practice there outside of their meetings. Clearly, not all Pratt floors are created equal.
Regardless, even if the building technically does not violate any state laws, Mount Holyoke has made an effort to provide support for people with disabilities beyond these laws and needs to continue to do so. According to AccessAbility’s mission statement, “Mount Holyoke is dedicated to ensuring that all of its students are equal and full participants in the college experience by working to identify and remove barriers to accessing our curriculum and activities.” The services are primarily focused on individual disability concerns, but I believe they should also give priority to addressing barriers that affect multiple students on campus.
Some members of my a cappella group, the Nice Shoes, have attempted to call attention to this issue during Senate. Despite their efforts, they’ve received no response. In our recent meeting, many expressed concerns that a student will want to join us but will not be able to because they cannot access our practice room in the basement. We considered practicing in one of the classrooms on the first floor instead, but that would mean giving up our whiteboard and flexibility of practice times.
Of course, these things are not as important as accommodating someone with a disability, but student groups should not have to work around the basic accessibility issues of buildings on campus in order to be inclusive. It is the College’s responsibility to make sure problems like this do not exist in the first place.
It should be noted that this specific problem is a difficult one to fix. There is no space to install an elevator inside the building, and the hill at the side of the building leading to the side entrance is too steep to build a path. The side entrance is almost accessible through a roundabout route that goes through Creighton, but there is still one set of stairs that leads down to the door. The stairs might be too steep to install a ramp, but I believe the administration should at least be clear about these limitations to concerned students, if not set on a plan to eventually make the basement accessible for all.