sealPurdue News

October 11, 1996

Purdue spends $1 million on campus accessibility

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University spent $1 million last year to improve campus accessibility for people with temporary and permanent disabilities, according to a report released today (Friday, 10/11) in conjunction with national Disabilities Employment Awareness Month.

Purdue plans to spend at least another half million dollars during this fiscal year, said Owen Cooks, ADA facilities coordinator. Since 1993, Purdue has spent about $3 million on renovations.

The largest single retrofit project during the past year was in conjunction with landscaping work between the Liberal Arts and Education Building and the Math and Computer Science Building. "There were some real problems with the ramping and grades in that area," Cooks said. "It is a high-traffic area, so we felt it was an area that needed immediate attention. We spent about $100,000 toward that project."

Another $200,000 last year went to installing and upgrading automatic door openers and remodeling restrooms in numerous campus buildings. Physical facilities staff also created numerous curb cuts around campus, including about 20 around Terry House before the Purdue Police Department moved into the building this fall. More than 600 curb cuts have been installed since 1991.

During the coming year, Cooks said, there are plans to install assistive listening systems in large classrooms in Wetherill Laboratory of Chemistry, Physics Building and Electrical Engineering Building. A permanent system also is scheduled for installation in Fowler Hall, Stewart Center. Purchasing portable systems for Stewart Center conference rooms is part of this year's budget. Permanent assistive listening systems already are available in Class of 1950, Elliott Hall of Music, Loeb Playhouse and Experimental Theatre.

Cooks also is involved in the design of the new Food Science Building and other renovations on campus to make sure the work complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Services for students with disabilities also have increased during the past year, said Paula Micka, assistant dean of students. Adaptive Programs, a division of the Office of the Dean of Students, has added a full-time staff member to provide and coordinate interpretive services for students on the West Lafayette campus.

Janet Beattie will spend about 20 hours a week interpreting for students with hearing disabilities and another 20 hours a week scheduling other interpreters to help students. She worked with deaf students in public schools in Indianapolis and Cincinnati before coming to Purdue this fall.

Other campus improvements include the opening of the chemistry department's VISIONS (Visually Impaired Students Initiative on Science) lab last fall and the formation of Purdue Advocates for Disability Issues, a new student organization.

VISIONS was developed under the supervision of Fred Lytle, professor of chemistry, to accommodate two students who are taking classes in preparation for medical school. As part of that effort, researchers at Purdue have developed a first-of-its-kind Braille system for chemistry designed to smooth the way for learning -- and teaching -- complex concepts in science. Additional tools are in the works, including a speech synthesizer that "reads" complex chemical and mathematical equations and a software program that translates Braille documents into standard English text.

Purdue Advocates for Disability Issues was established as an official student organization last year, Micka said. The organization is for students, faculty or staff interested in disability issues whether or not they have a disability themselves. In addition to regular meetings, the group plans to staff an information table in the Purdue Memorial Union in March during Disability Awareness Month and will try to establish a speakers bureau during the coming year.

Other areas of the university also are working to improve accessibility for students. Micka said the Center for Instructional Services is adding to the materials it has available to help faculty members accommodate students with disabilities. These services include providing closed captioning for more of the center's instructional videos. Mary Ann Ferkis, an instructional specialist, works with faculty to help them modify their curriculum to meet student needs.

Pat Russell, access and occupational health services coordinator in personnel services, said more staff members are contacting her office for assistance. "People are gaining a better understanding about disabilities and the types of accommodations that can be made," Russell said.

One example is a staff member with a hearing impairment. The cooling fan on standard overhead projectors was interfering with his hearing aid, so Purdue purchased a convection-cooled projector for his use.

Another staff member with a mobility impairment had his workstation completely rebuilt during the past year. New equipment included a custom-built cordless headset telephone and furniture built specifically for him by university carpenters. Other assistive equipment purchased for staff includes large-screen monitors and voice-recognition systems for their computers.


Sources: Owen Cooks, (765) 494-5431; e-mail,

Paula Micka, (765) 494-1245; e-mail,

Pat Russell, (765) 494-0269; e-mail,

Writer: J. Michael Willis, (765) 494-0371; e-mail,

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page