Features, Special Projects / Topics

NMSU accessibility both succeeds and falls short

A simple walk to class for most people may be a stressful commute for others as the New Mexico State University main campus has many areas in which it can improve its accessibility.

Like all public areas, NMSU is required to provide a certain level of accessibility to accommodate people with disabilities. These requirements are mandated under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990. Though university programs and policies generally do well to support people with disabilities, there are some issues regarding accessibility that fall short of the mark.

Regarding technology, there are oversights that alienate some students. The computer labs around campus are not fully suited to those with limited mobility, which denies some students access to computer programs they should be able to use.

NMSU student Arcelia Mendoza makes it up the ramp to the main southside entrance of Foster Hall Wednesday, March 23, 2022, before realizing there is no automatic door button. (Photo by Javier Gallegos/Kokopelli)

Student Arcelia Mendoza, who has been living with cerebral palsy her whole life, cannot physically access any of the computers on campus, which has forced her to pay out-of-pocket to be able to use Adobe software programs at home. NMSU provides access to these programs on many of its computers on campus, but does not provide access to them on students’ personal devices, despite these programs being required for multiple majors and dozens of courses.

Donna Miller is the academic success coordinator with TRIO Student Support Services, which helps provide  academic support to students with disabilities. Miller indicated some of her students have faced accessibility issues. “I think the two-factor authentication system is not easy for some students regarding technology. For example, I assisted a senior gentleman once and it took a few tries to log into his computer because his hands shook severely between getting to his phone and laptop,”  Miller said.

“Facilities and Services relies on students, faculty and staff to report issues like broken door buttons so they can address them as quickly as possible.”

The two-factor authentication system is a security measure implemented by NMSU in which students receive a phone call or text and must answer, press the pound key or sign into the NMSU authenticator app in order to log on to a device using their NMSU ID. Miller also pointed out the irony of the TRIO office entrance not having an automatic door button.

Regarding campus infrastructure, there are many cracks on the sidewalks, footpaths and courtyards around the main campus that may be dangerous or difficult to maneuver around for those with mobility or vision issues. Yellow paint is used to caution pedestrians of these areas and highlight changes in elevation or metal surfaces. While using caution paint may be the best practice for a temporary fix, there are many years-old cracks that have been there so long that the yellow paint has faded.

Despite these issues, Carina Nuñez, a student who is blind, feels the buildings at the NMSU main campus have great accessibility for people with visual impairments. “So far at NMSU, I have only been in very few buildings, and they have all been easy to navigate. At first, it was sort of tricky to get to Disability Access Services, but since they are now at a different location, it is a lot easier to find. NMSU is already providing a great source to have the necessary accessible accommodations via DAS, so nothing else is needed,” Nuñez said. She feels that both the physical environment and the programs at NMSU support her well.

The automatic door button inside Hernandez Hall near the main entrance leading to the courtyard has “NOT WORKING” written on it. When tested April 5, 2022, the button was working, implying that it was fixed after the words were written. (Photo by Javier Gallegos/Kokopelli)

Automatic door buttons, which automatically open doors when pressed, are a major part of accessibility. Under federal accessibility standards, every public building must have at least one entrance with an automatic door opener. Many door buttons around campus are faulty or do not work at all. These buttons should not only accommodate those with mobility issues, but also people with other conditions that may prevent them from opening doors due to their weight or design. They should be sensitive and not require lots of force to use.

The following list highlights some of the faulty door buttons around the different buildings on campus, along with other general accessibility issues. This is not a comprehensive list.  

Biology Annex: Both the interior and exterior buttons for the east entrance do not work.

Chemistry Building: The exterior button for the south entrance does not work.

Corbett Center: The exterior button on the second floor near the KRUX office is difficult to use.

Domenici Hall: The exterior button on the north entrance is located near the door hinges, meaning as the door opens, it smothers users against the nearby wall and forces them to back up and maneuver around the door to enter the building.

Dove Hall: The interior button to enter the staircase on the south side of building does not work.

Foster Hall: The main entrance on the south side of the building does not have an exterior door button. 

The walkway in front of the Hardman and Jacobs Undergraduate Learning Center on the west side of the building is full of cracks Tuesday, April 5, 2022, many of which are unpainted. This can be a difficult area for people with mobility or vision issues to traverse, especially since this walkway has lots of foot traffic in between classes. (Photo by Javier Gallegos/Kokopelli)

Garcia Annex: There are no buttons at the main entrance. The buttons at the back entrance on the east side of the building are difficult to use and require a lot of force to press.

Goddard Annex: Both the interior and exterior buttons for the north entrance do not work. The interior button for the southernmost entrance does not work.

Goddard Hall: Both the interior and exterior buttons for the west entrance do not work.

Guthrie Hall (Office of Academic Affairs): Both the interior and exterior door buttons do not work.

Hardman and Jacobs Undergraduate Learning Center: The office of the TRIO Student Support Services, which offers support to students with disabilities, does not have a door button.

Health and Social Services: The interior button on the west side of the building only opens the first of two doors needed to exit the building. The additional button in between these pairs of doors also has the same problem. The exterior door button does not work at all, and this door is particularly heavy. The exterior button facing north is difficult to use.

Milton Hall: The main entrance to the News 22 studio has a large staircase leading up to it with no ramp available. The side entrance does have a ramp, but one must pass through two doors without buttons to get to the studio.

The automatic door button outside of the northwest entrance of O’Donnell Hall doubles as a trash receptacle Tuesday, April 5, 2022. This button does not work. (Photo by Javier Gallegos/Kokopelli)

Music Building: The interior button for the south entrance does not work. The two exterior buttons for the same entrance also do not work.

O’Donnell Hall: Both the interior and exterior buttons at the west end of the building facing north do not work. Both the interior and exterior buttons at the west end of the building facing south do not work. All three buttons for the main entrance on the east end of the building do not work.

These issues were brought to the attention of NMSU Facilities and Services. Access Control Supervisor Thomas Villalobos released the following statement: “We are currently implementing a preventive maintenance program for these automatic door operators so we may service them before a problem occurs. This will include testing of the buttons, opening of the door, duration of the door being open and checking the operator. Unfortunately, like any another machine or pushable paddles, these items take a lot of wear and tear from daily use and sometimes abuse when not used correctly.”

Villalobos went on to explain that Facilities and Services relies on students, faculty and staff to report issues like broken door buttons so they can address them “as quickly as possible.” He ended the statement by saying, “We do our best to keep these operators functioning and serviced on top of other service calls and projects we have pending. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have.”

Every door button that is difficult to use or does not work is a situation in which someone with a disability may have to ask a stranger for assistance. Though it may not seem like much, some students have to enter many of these buildings and deal with these faulty buttons every time they go to class. The repetition of having to ask for help every day can be alienating to people in the disabilities community, but progress could be made with the push of a button. 

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for a well written and needed documentation of the issues discussed. I have personally experienced many of these issues. It’s wonderful that it seems the “ball is in motion” with a reference in the article of who to contact in order to fix problematic accessibility hardware. If I can make a suggestion: post this information, say, on a decal, at or near each of the service entrances. This way, if there is a button that is not working, anyone will be able to access information as to how to go about requesting or notifying of a faulty accessibility button or door, etc.

  2. Accessibility reports for the NMSU system may be filed online with the Office of Institutional Equity at https://equity.nmsu.edu/home/petition-for-accommodation.html
    OIE works with campus units to address accessibility issues as quickly as possible. You may also call OIE at 575-646-3635 to report an issue by phone or equail us at equity@nmsu.edu.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

*