Wheels @ William & Mary – Final Thoughts

Hello all!  Thanks to any of you who have been keeping up with my posts.  I can’t believe I started working on the draft of my proposal for this project a whole year ago.  It’s been a great experience to get to design a project that I’m passionate about, and then get to spend the whole summer doing the research.  I’ve loved getting a different look at our campus, and getting to meet so many wonderful people.  It’s been fun to see how the project has traveled from person to person around campus.  People I’ve never met will tell me they heard about the project from someone who heard about it from someone who met me over the summer.  It’s great to know that this research has gotten some people thinking!

The Monroe committee asked that our final blog post be a summary of our summer research.  I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a summary of what we researched, or of our research experience, so you’re going to get both.

So – what did I learn about accessibility at the College of William & Mary?  I confirmed what I already suspected: physical access when using a wheelchair is difficult on our campus.  Not impossible, but definitely tricky. This school is old, and most of our buildings were constructed before any sort of laws about access existed.  Physical access is always going to be important, and I suspect it may always be a struggle at our school.  However, I also learned that because every person with a disability has somewhat different needs, accessibility is often as much about attitudes and willpower as it is about wheelchair ramps.

We at William & Mary have definitely got the willpower to get things done. Remember that wheelchair lift I mentioned in Small Hall?  How keys kept disappearing from it, so it was next to useless?  It’s been fixed.  There are now two keys – each one chained to the lift so they can’t ‘wander off.’  I didn’t ask for it to be fixed – I didn’t even put in a work order.  Someone, I suspect one of the people I met that day in the Physics office, had the attitude thatit wasn’t acceptable for the ramp not to work, and made sure the problem got solved.  The lift was important, but I think the attitude was even more significant.  I engaged with a lot of staff members over the summer, and each one was embarrassed about any problems with access I pointed out, and eager to find out what they could do to help.  I hope the same is true of students and faculty.

And what did I learn about the research process?  It’s not always going to go exactly how you plan!  You can think you have things planned out perfectly, but you still have to be willing to go with the flow, because sometimes there are always going to be elements that are outside of your control.  I suppose that’s true of life, but somehow, I had thought I’d be able to control everything in this project, because it was my project.  Not so, and frankly I think the end product was the better for it!

Anyway, thanks for all of your encouraging words and thoughtful questions over the course of the summer.  It’s been great to hear from you!  I’m looking forward to the upcoming Summer Research Showcase (October 1-3), and if my paper ends up online, I’ll be sure to let you know where you can find it.



  1. cetocheny says:

    It’s great to see how much of a change your efforts have brought to the campus! After the showcase, what’s next for you? Will you continue this project to highlight more drastic changes that need to be made? Do you plan on advocating for more major, construction-based projects on campus? One thing that comes to mind for me is the entrance to swem library. While there are ramps there, they are small, have a tight corner, and the walls are so high that you can’t see other people who could potentially run right into you. Also, how do you think the student body will react to any changes that are made on campus? And, I think most importantly, how do you think these changes will hold up during the school year with high traffic, and stressed out students running here and there? I’m curious to hear your opinions.

  2. mthibshman says:

    Your project is really refreshing! It’s not often that people come up with something so well-grounded and downright practical! What I’d be interested in learning about is the relationship between the old-style architecture and the necessity of creating handicapped-accessible buildings on campus. Did you encounter any resistance from College staff throughout the summer on those grounds? I’m especially curious about the buildings on old and ancient campus, i.e. Wren or Blair. Obviously the priority goes to making sure that everybody can get into those buildings and is able to make it to the different classrooms inside, but at what point does trying to maintain the colonial style architecture get in the way of that goal? Like you said the definition of accessibility does vary so it might be tricky to find an answer, but it would make for an interesting exercise in creativity at the least! Thanks for your project!

  3. Hi, Hannah! I enjoy reading your posts. It is such an interesting idea to investigate our campus from a wheelchair. And you included so many wonderful pictures! One of the first things I noticed when I came to William and Mary is that there are students with disabilities who are able to attend classes and take exams just like all the other students. I was impressed by the care that the college gives to these students and the approaches the college takes to provide convenience for this special group (though there are still problems such as physical access when using a wheelchair as you pointed out). Both my parents work at a university in China and I have rarely heard anything about policies or new facilities on campus to make the lives of students with disabilities easier. Indeed many people with disabilities are disencouraged from attending college, so I think there are lots things that Chinese universities should learn from schools in the States.