How Villanova Works to Make Campus Accessible and What Work Still Needs to be Done


Victoria Margenat / Villanovan Photography

Villanova features many ramps and elevators on campus.

Eric White, Staff Writer

With a sprawling campus that covers 260 acres of land, three separate train stops to accommodate its students and local community and a mix of Modern and Gothic architecture that hints at its mid-19th century roots, Villanova is undeniably visually impressive. However, with the unique campus and building design, there come consequences. Though the campus may be picturesque, traveling around it is not always the easiest, even if one is able-bodied. 

Some of the things that might seem only mildly inconvenient to an abled student, like a lack of elevators in South Campus residence halls or a ramp that only exists on one side of the Corr Hall arch, pose a major challenge for physically disabled students. Not only can it limit their ability to access certain buildings or areas of campus, but it can also make them feel deeply isolated from their peers and as though the campus isn’t designed with them in mind.

Gregory Hannah, the Associate Director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS), long fought for student accessibility.

“The interesting part for me is that I’ve seen a lot of the changes to campus and improvements in our conversations with departments like facilities and groundskeeping,” Hannah said. “We rely on student feedback and requests and these thoughts from those departments to figure out what needs to be improved. There are times where a student will come to you, and we investigate what they say and consult our partners to see what needs to be done.”

Hannah’s arrival in 2009 also marked the beginning of the student group LEVEL on campus. He was passionate about the fact that Villanova needed a group for disabled students and took it upon himself to form one.

The campus’s accessibility is a collaborative effort between a variety of departments on campus, such as maintenance, facilities, groundskeeping, public safety, parking and transportation and of course, ODS. Despite these intra-campus partnerships and each department’s vigilance in finding possible issues, it’s more than possible for inaccessible spaces to fall through the cracks. 

“We definitely think speaking with students is one of the most important parts to find the best way to deal with mobility concerns on campus,” Hannah said. “Seeing it through the eyes of our students is the most important part. Seeing it through my eyes, I might think everything is going great, but students are the key aspect.”

Many accommodations are available to students who register with the Office of Disability Services, such as elevator passes and access to the campus mobility shuttles. Hannah explained the office’s commitment to addressing students’ concerns. In one example, he explained how if a student winds up being assigned a course in a space they can’t access, such as the second floor of a building without an elevator like John Barry Hall, they can inform the office, and their class can be relocated to a more accessible space.

Though the commitment to fulfilling student wishes is admirable, at the same time, I could not help but wonder: is this really the best solution? Would it not be better to make buildings like this accessible in the first place, rather than resigning students to the fact that they will never be able to see certain spaces on campus?

It seems that many of Villanova’s accessibility measures are curative rather than preventative, seeking to figure out ways to navigate and circumvent inaccessible spaces on campus, rather than working to make all spaces accessible. It is a form of reformist advocacy, dedicated to mitigating the damages that occur within the current system after the problems have already impacted students, rather than seeking to reshape the system before students have to bear the consequences.

Having to register with the ODS allows disabled students to have exclusive access to the beneficial accommodations the University offers. Yet at the same time, it isolates these students. It forces them to confide their medical history in the university and leaves them largely deprived of accommodations until they choose to register. Some students might know they struggle with mobility and pain but might not have had the opportunity to seek an official diagnosis yet. Others might be ashamed to approach the office or want to keep their disability private, even at the cost of comfort. In all of these situations, students aren’t able to benefit from the accommodations Villanova has created. However, sweeping structural changes would benefit all students.

Relying on student feedback allows for student concerns to be prioritized. However, it also places some of the burden of creating an accessible environment back on the very students who need that space the most. It was made clear during the meeting that the University’s ODS is not responsible for going around campus and analyzing it for mobility concerns. Instead, it’s the additional duty of other departments and students on campus to make these issues known. 

This clearly is not Hannah’s choice, but at the same time, during the meeting, I wanted to ask, “why not?” Why doesn’t Villanova have individuals with the proper certifications for creating accessible spaces whose entire job it is to scour campus for accessibility issues, rather than letting these problems go unreported unless they are noticed by a department or student? 

Again, none of the blame should be assigned to ODS and the dedicated individuals working within it. Since Hannah’s arrival on campus in 2009, campus has changed drastically for the better. There are many measures of support for disabled students here. Yet at the same time, there are many improvements to be made by administrators and executives far out of the ODS’s reach.

Instead of writing off entire buildings and areas of campus, which implicitly tells students that these areas are not meant for them and treats their presence on campus as an afterthought, the University needs to take a different approach. 

Rather than avoiding assigning any wheelchair-using students to Alumni Hall – a building that cannot be entered without using stairs – why not fix the entryways with proper ramps? Instead of limiting the use of some elevators to only those with approved passes, why not open all elevators to the public and install more if demand is too high for the current amount? If the stairs in Tolentine are unpleasantly steep for any student, why not work on making them lower and easier to use?

The cost and logistics of this are ultimately a factor. Still, planning out the budget and the best use of resources isn’t a burden that should fall on the shoulders of students, and Villanova is no stranger to massive construction projects. Ultimately, the University has taken steps in the right direction, but there is far more work that needs to be done to create a truly accessible campus for all students.