Gabriel Corbin

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — A group of Winthrop University students is working to raise awareness of accessibility issues on campus, including elevators that don’t work, broken blue light emergency phones or a lack of ramps and street crossing signs.

WU Students for Change, a campus advocacy group, has started to draw attention to the issues with elevators, staircases, ramps and audible beaconing crosswalk signals, which have broken in the last few months. Students have reported that elevators have broken down in places like the Withers Building and the DiGiorgio Campus Center.

While most students may be unaffected, these issues can greatly impact those on campus who suffer from a physical disability. 

Ainsley McCarthy, a sophomore mass communication major, is a member of WU Students for Change who has cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair for movement. 

“The accessible entrance on the outside of Johnson (Hall); that push button is attached to the wall with double-sided scotch tape,” said McCarthy, who was a guest the Palmetto Report podcast. “I’m afraid that at any time that door is going to stop working and that button is going to stop working and I won’t be able to get to my classes. So there’s a whole list of things that are very pressing, that are both dangerous and inconvenient on many levels.” 

WU Students for Change has held a number of demonstrations to draw attention to the challenges students with accessibility needs may face on campus.

“Our goal is to essentially light a fire under Winthrop to get them to do the things they should already be doing for these disenfranchised students,” said Ravyn Speigner, a member of the group.

“We are discussing issues with basic infrastructure,” said theatre major Amy Hughey, a member of the group who organized a recent protest.  “We have a member who uses a wheelchair and has to leave 30 minutes early for her classes in case she gets stuck because that’s how much of a threat it is on this campus.” 

Their work on accessibility, including an active Instagram account, has gained attention from others on campus.

“WU Students for Change on their Instagram has been big on advocacy,” said Autumn Hawkins, who wrote a September opinion piece on the topic for The Johnsonian student newspaper. “But I wanted to do my part by bringing it to the public’s attention as a journalist.” 

So far, the group’s Instagram posts about Winthrop’s handling of accessibility issues have drawn hundreds of “likes” and multiple comments.

“I’m so tired,” commented McCarthy, on a Sept. 4 Instagram post. “I am a human, not an afterthought.”

Winthrop has also taken notice, as the school hired a new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance officer to tackle accessibility issues and handle students concerns. Kevin Sheppard Sr. started his role as the Title IX coordinator and ADA compliance officer Nov. 1.

With a historic campus like ours, plus maintenance needs that are not always funded by the state, there are challenges,” said James Grigg, associate vice president of facilities management at Winthrop. “We have hired an ADA compliance officer to assist the administration in making our campus even more accessible.” 

WU Students for Change members say they hope their work will continue to raise awareness of accessibility issues and improve safety on campus, as the group has already had some success advocating for how sexual assault cases are handled on campus.

“I really hope that everyone can join me in this fight and support me through this,” McCarthy said. “So many people have supported me thus far, and I know that together, we can do this. We can make (the) campus a safer and more enjoyable place to be that will really change people’s everyday lives.”