Sunday, August 25, 2013


It seems nobody thinks of wheelchair users when renovating or expanding a building anymore. The student union building, the heart of the campus the way I see it, is finally undergoing the construction that the powers that be have pushed for for many years. When you build and you demolish, it's bound to get a little uncomfortable. Exits closed down, areas gated off, detours are to be expected right? But every time I'm there, getting in seems like a puzzle and getting out feels like a maze. It's easier if  you can walk down the stairs, jump of the paved path or walk through grass.  When you're in a wheelchair you need a clear, even path and elevators. Elevators in service and a path with clear instructions which way to go, so you don't end up rolling into another closed off area or a dead end.

I used to stop by the Reitz Union all through law school. I got two degrees there, so suffice to say I've been around for a few years. That was my place to grab a hot meal, a cup of coffee and study. While my law school friends avoided the main campus at all cost, it wasn't fun enough or mature for them,  I didn't care. Where else can  you watch a movie or accidentally walk into a comedy show? What other place has inspiring speakers you probably never heard of before? I still go there, on occasion to get a quick bite if it's not out of my way too much, to see what's going on, say  hi to staff I remember and meet up with old alums. I still live and practice in Gainesville and the Reitz was a big part of my student experience. Getting into the building is more complicated that it used to with the main entrance gated off and closed. The signs now instruct you to go through The Welcome Center, an annex on the side of the building with its own sets of elevators. You enter through the parking garage,  go up, you walk on the outside walkway into the Reitz through the Food Court. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. The elevators at the Welcome Center get shut down at night often when student programs at the Reitz are still running. It's not getting in I'm concerned about. It's getting out. When I was leaving the building a few weeks ago I noticed that the Food Court entrance was closed. I could get out, but I couldn't get back in to look for a different way. When I got to the Welcome Center elevator it wouldn't let me out on the level I got in. I couldn't go back to alert anybody, because the Food Court door now only opened from the outside and I couldn't get out on the Park Level to leave through the  garage. My only option was the lower level parking at somehow wheeling myself up to the surface. And so I did. I ended up going a very steep car ramp to go up half a lever. With every minute I was more and more afraid that my chair would flip or roll down at a really fast pace. Not to mention that I was in the middle of a car ramp and at any second a vehicle coming up and down could hit me. At the same time students were coming in and out of staircases. Both sides of the building have plenty of these and nobody seems to be too concerned about closing them down for the night. The odd thing, the night manager was locking the Food Court as I left and never warned me I'd be stuck on the other side. And he locks it down. I worked out quite a sweat just getting out of the garage and with most sidewalks I knew gated off or small paths uphill leading nowhere, having to retract quite a bit it took me a while to figure out on which side of the building I was. By the time I got to the Later Gator bus stop it was 2:30, I thought I have missed the last run home. I tried to call a friend, but my phone was dead, I guess I was under ground too long. I think they took down some of the internet routers because my tablet couldn't find the network from across the street, so I couldn't get on Facebook or Skype. Then, at 2:35 a miracle. After rolling around the Reitz for at least an hour trying to find my way, the last bus comes by and I get to go home. And I feel like I won a lottery. It took me a few weeks to consider going back, I didn't want to be in the same situation. I left the movie they were showing there early, so I could leave before the night manager shuts the building again, but he beat me to it. But I know I can get out through the basements that the Reitz, the garage and the Welcome Center share. All I see is corridors and more corridors. Going behind plenty of stored equipment. I guess this isn't really for public access. I'm in some service access area. No information, no arrows, did I turn left or right? At moments like this I really wish I could walk down the stairs. One of the cleaners tells me which way to go and I finally make it out. At the same time people who walk get out without a problem. There's quite a few staircases, not as many elevators. Just like them, I just want to get home.

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