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Friday, December 6, 2019

Campus

Student breaks her arm after housing claims accessible door is too expensive, she says


After breaking her arm in her original door, Funk has gotten a more accessible door. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Since Allison Funk moved into her Cougar Place residence hall freshman year, she has had problems with her door.

It’s not that it lacks a lock or is too loud when it closes. The problem is that she can’t always open the door herself, even after the tension on the door was lightened.

Funk has been in a powerchair for most of her life. The chair does not make it easy to open the door and maneuvering it isn’t something she can always do.

In the first week of October, Funk’s door closed, trapping her arm. She gets hurt all the time and didn’t think it was a big deal. After two weeks it was still hurting. She finally went to the doctor.

Her arm was broken.

“I was trying to open the door, and I just didn’t catch it with my chair and, so I tried to grab it with my arm and it just closed to where I couldn’t pull my arm out,” Funk said, a playwriting sophomore. “I couldn’t really reach the door with my other hand, and I was too nervous to move my chair with my arm in the door. I called a friend in a room down the hall. I was there for like two minutes.”

Funk has been contacting different departments within the University, by email, since May to get an automatic door. Many of the emails from the University said they are working on it, but no evidence of tangible action until after Funk broke her arm was taken toward an automatic door, according to emails reviewed by The Cougar from Funk.

In-person talks about Funk’s inability to open the door between her, Student Housing and Residential life and The Center for Students with DisABILITIES had been going on since she moved in, she said.

The issue became public after Funk began a Twitter thread detailing the issue with her door. The tweets included a picture of her arm in a cast along with a video of her attempting to open the door.

The thread quickly went viral within the UH community.

“Two weeks ago, I was opening the door when it closed on my hand. I finally went to the doctor and found out that it was fractured,” one of the tweets said. “I contacted the disability office, housing, and even @UHpres to try and make my room accessible. Up until I hurt myself, it was ‘too expensive.’ ”

The main problem with getting Funk a new door was expense, according to emails between her and Director of Housing Operations and Outreach Kenny Mauk.

“It was weird, because I have a friend who lives on the fourth floor there and she has an automatic door opener,” Funk said. “I asked if I could have the same thing and they said, ‘no we’re not doing that anymore. It’s too expensive.’ ”

In one of the emails, Funk requested SHRL modify her door like her friend’s was modified. Mauk responded that SHRL no longer modifies doors in the way Funk requested due to cost.

“Because of the significant cost student housing and residential life has opted to no longer approve modification requests such as the one you have mentioned,” Mauk said in an email to Funk. “We will work with you to determine if there is an accommodation we can provide.”

Many solutions given to Funk not being able to open her door were the same: get the desk assistants to open the door for her. While, most of the time, this would work for getting in the door, getting out of her dorm was more difficult, because it was hard to explain.

“They didn’t really (accommodate me) my first year,” Funk said. “I could always go to the front desk and get someone to let me in, but when I’d call them to let me out they’d just get confused, because they don’t deal with lock-ins very often.”

When she would tell the front desk staff about her problem opening her door, both to get in and out of her room, they would understand for that shift but often times didn’t seem to pass the message on to their replacements, Funk said.

Finally, Funk emailed the most senior person she could think of at the University, President Renu Khator.

Funk remembered Khator once said if students had a problem they could email her and would receive an answer within three days. When Funk emailed Khator’s office she received a response from Executive Director of Student Housing and Residential Life Don Yackley.

“They kept telling me to be patient and to handle it on their level,” Funk said. “But I did that all last year, and nothing got done.”

He emailed her the next day and told her he had meetings with UH Facilities, UH Access Control and the Fire Marshal’s Office.

“The UH Lock shop is taking information from the discussion and will be following up with some options for me to review later this week (Friday at the latest) that we believe will be a solution,” said the first email between Yackley and Funk. “Once we get the identified options… we will finalize a solution and a plan to address your door, and I will communicate that with you what the plan is.”

Throughout the conversations between the two, Yackley has kept Funk updated on the solutions they’re coming up with to make sure the door will work for her.

One of the ideas was to get her a door that would open automatically, but only after she turns the handle and begins to pull on it. She told him that she does not think that will work because of the weight of the door.

After a little under a month of communication, Yackley and Funk came to an agreement on a door that will open automatically from the inside and out without her ever having to pull on it. The solution came about four months after Funk emailed Mauk asking for the same thing and he told her it was too expensive.

That was a week before Funk announced her arm was broken.

Although Yackley was responding to the problem before Funk broke her arm, she still didn’t have a working door for her until Tuesday.

In an email, Yackley said the reason for the continuous push back of the completion date, which was originally Oct. 25, was due to a delay in the arrival of parts for the door and a longer construction time than expected.

The Cougar contacted the University about the incident, and they said UH cannot talk about the specific incident due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, but could answer general questions.

Installing an automatic door for a student’s dorm costs approximately $12,000, Yackley said. Since Funk’s tweet went viral, four new automatic doors are being installed in housing units at the University. The four do not include the automatic doors that will be installed in four American Disabilities Act units in The Quad set to open in August 2020, Yackley said.

While Funk is relieved she and others will finally be getting a door they can open, she is still frustrated it was as difficult as it was.

“Suddenly they could get doors for everyone,” Funk said. “My biggest issue is why did it take so long, and why did it take someone getting hurt to fix it?”

She hopes this ordeal will make it easier for the next student with disabilities to get what they need.

“I hope they listen to disabled students when they say something’s not accessible,” Funk said. “Sometimes if it doesn’t affect you, you don’t realize something’s not accessible. That’s why they really need to listen to us, because we’re the ones who experience it every day.”

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