Walkways prove treacherous for some Western students

By Katelyn Canon

January 15, 2014

For students with mobility impairments, attending class during the winter months can be difficult, even dangerous.

Steep walkways on campus can be challenging, especially when covered with ice. Disability Services Coordinator Mike Ritter is trying to bring awareness to just how many Missouri Western walkways are dangerously steep.

Ritter has placed a sign along almost every sidewalk on campus, warning students of the potentially hazardous incline.

“Those sidewalks are particularly steep and once you add a little bit of snow or ice to them they are pretty treacherous, so its really challenging for some people to get around,” Ritter said.

The signs serve as a visual reminder to warn those who use a wheelchair, crutches, or other mobility aid that they may need to plan a safer winter route to classes.

“I wanted to draw attention to the sidewalks that are particularly steep and that get really slick and very hazardous during the wintertime,” Ritter said. “Our campus is very hilly and it’s hard to get from one building to the next without going up or down a hill so I wanted people to be careful and kind of think through which route they should take to get from Point A to Point B.”

Typically, Lonnie Johnson, the director of facilities, must approves signage that appears on campus before they are put up, but Johnson said he was, “unaware of the signs”. Still, Johnson had aversion to them, as long as they are removed by Spring.

Although Ritter is aiming to help disabled students remain safe this Winter, Western doesn’t currently have a solution to get them safely to class.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of great options,” Ritter said. “About the best that a person can do is try to plan their route of travel in advance, and maybe go through building and get on the flattest sidewalks they can find.”

For now, Ritter works with students and professors to arrange excused absences if a student with a mobility impairment is unable to attend classes due to adverse weather.

Installing heated sidewalks, glass-enclosed walkways or using shuttle vehicles are all options that could solve the icy problem, but Ritter said that those options are almost certainly unattainable because they, “are not easy and are alway very cost prohibitive.”

A possible solution that could be added to steep, pre-existing walkways is installing handrails.

“One of the things we hope to do is put up handrails, so that, if someone needs to steady themselves as they are going up or down a walkway that is particularly steep, they at least have something to grab on to. If they begin to fall, they can try to keep themselves from falling all the way to the ground,” Ritter said. “Beyond that, I’m not sure what else we will eventually be able to do to make that better.”