Delivery robots shine light on larger issues for students with disabilities

Having food delivery robots on campus is a double-edged sword when it comes to convenience and accessibility on campus. | Kathryn Lenihan/ The Cougar

The Starship dining robots since November have been rolling all over campus. There are a lot of good things about them: they deliver at convenient hours, provide a lot of options and have a low delivery fee.

However, their presence on campus isn’t for everyone, particularly students with disabilities. The robots shed light on issues with the University’s infrastructure. Beyond just fixing ramps and sidewalks for the robots, UH needs to make sure campus is a place where student needs and comfort are priorities. 

Robots often take up ramp space while waiting to cross the street, students have told The Cougar. If someone in a wheelchair is trying to cross the street but a robot is blocking the ramp, they can get trapped in the street with oncoming traffic. 

Don’t get me wrong, the robots overall are a great option for students. The delivery fee is cheap, and you don’t have to go anywhere to get the food, but they can make it difficult for people with disabilities to navigate campus sidewalks.

Ramps and sidewalks on campus can be rather narrow, and this makes it difficult to have these robots on the sidewalk while there is a lot of foot traffic. People on crutches or in wheelchairs can find it difficult to have a robot blocking their path on a crowded sidewalk.

The robots are a small aspect of a larger problem on campus. From broken elevators to heavy doors, UH has a lot to work on in terms of accessibility.

Accessibility is a human right and UH should do everything in its power to make sure that students with disabilities can get around easily and access everything like the rest of the student population.

There are several places on campus that have bumps, cracks and uneven sidewalks. These bumps are easy to step over but it can be a challenge to get over those bumps in a wheelchair or on crutches.

UH thankfully has the Center for Students with Disabilities, which provides services such as an accessible computer lab, interpreters, screen readers and alternative textbook formats. Students can also request accommodations such as extra time on tests and the ability to turn in assignments later. The center is a good resource for academic accessibility. But, when it comes to infrastructure, they don’t have much power to fix the issues on campus. 

An incident last semester led a student to break her arm when housing refused to alter the door to her room, citing cost as the reason why it wasn’t changed. This is an example of the University’s negligence when it comes to accessibility.

A student should not have to get seriously injured in order for change to happen.

Whenever the University makes a decision, such as bringing food delivery robots on campus or deciding not to renovate a sidewalk, they should make sure that the decision benefits all students.

While there are certainly benefits to having the robots, no one should have to worry about their ability to safely make it across campus for class.

Anna Baker is an English sophomore who can be reached at [email protected]

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