The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

The Office of Disability Resources navigates moving into a new office location in Seacobeck Hall

6 min read

The new Office of Disability Resources space is located in Seacobeck Hall. Emily Warren/ The Weekly Ringer

by JESS KIRBY

Editor-in-Chief

Since its move from Lee Hall, the Office of Disability Resources (ODR) has made efforts to create an accessible and welcoming space in Seacobeck Hall. While the relocation has come with some challenges, ODR Director Jessica Machado says the new office is an improvement from its previous location.

“We tried to make sure that we’re really thoughtful about our space, how it’s laid out [and] how people are going to be able to feel comfortable,” said Machado. “We were thinking about how wheelchair users, or anybody with any type of need, would be able to access any part of our space, including working here as a student worker.”

Machado said the new space “is certainly an upgrade and it’s not perfect. We know it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of issues, but being able to have a space has definitely helped us have a more cohesive team, so we’re really grateful for that.”

While the main entrance to the office is located off of College Avenue, there is also an entrance within Seacobeck.

“One thing that I really like about the outside entrance in is that it really is a straight shot, so you don’t have to, hopefully, find your way into the rest of Seacobeck, which is a really confusing building,” said Machado.

Machado said that being located on the ground floor is an advantage of the new office space, compared to its previous location on the fourth floor of Lee. 

“Being on a top level of a building is not necessarily a great thing for access,” she said. “Being able to just access it from the ground level, not having to rely on an elevator at all, I think is an advantage.”

This office location was chosen because it can be accessed through the elevator within Seacobeck or from the outside of the building, according to Capital Outlay Project Director Gary Hobson, the project manager of the Seacobeck renovation.

“The location of the ODR suite allows for it [to] be accessed by students even if the elevator is out of order,” he said. “In addition to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as to building code, automatic door operators were added to both exterior and interior doors along most common pathways.”

Inside the office, the reception desk is intentionally low in height to make sure students are greeted at eye level.

“We really want to be intentional about making sure that anybody can come up and have a face-to-face conversation with somebody instead of … somebody having to look down at them,” said Machado. “So, [we’re] thinking about how to treat people with respect as soon as they’re walking in the door.”

The new location is also larger than the old office in Lee Hall.

“When you walked into Lee Hall in our old space before, we had a very narrow entranceway,” said Machado. “Basically, if there’s a wheelchair user, there’s nowhere for them to even wait because it’s such a small space.”

In the new location, all staff members are able to work in the same space. Previously, Danielle Smith, ODR’s assistive technology coordinator, was located down the hall from the rest of the staff members. ODR’s testing space was also located two floors below the Lee office and is now inside the Seacobeck office.

However, there have been some challenges since the building reopened.

“We’re trying to work out the kinks because, with any new building, I think it’s kind of normal to expect that things are just not going to be perfectly up and running on day one,” said Machado. “Unfortunately, the opening of this building was timed with the start of classes and that snowstorm, and everything got delayed.”

The snowstorm delayed the movers, preventing the ODR staff from moving in before the start of the spring semester.

“We really wanted to get in here before students got to campus, but there’s nothing we could do about it,” said Machado. “Especially in the beginning of the semester, we’re really slammed, and we’re a tiny, tiny office … but we just tried to keep our doors open as much as we could, while also moving in and unpacking.” The office was closed for one day during the moving process.

According to Machado, two of the building’s challenges are locked doors and inadequate signage.

“One big piece of accessibility and access is signage, and ADA actually does have really specific codes when it comes to signage and what’s required by law,” she said. “Signs were missing completely when we opened up Seacobeck, and that was something that I really raised a big stink about. It was a big challenge when we first opened and I realized that there was no sign to indicate where the Office of Disability was.”

ODR has put up temporary signs until the permanent ones come in.

“We are going to have a couple outdoor signs hopefully that are going to be able to clearly identify from the street where our office suite is so that people can be clearly directed into that space,” said Machado.

Because the building was built in 1930, according to UMW Blogs, historical protections limit the changes that can be made to Seacobeck.

“There’s some protections around how much you can change the structure of the building, just to make sure that you’re preserving that history,” said Machado.

When asked about the quickest way to get to the office from the Palmieri Plaza, Machado said, “It is not a quick, easy thing to get to. The quickest is not an accessible route.”

For people who face challenges with stairs or steep inclines, Machado said the easiest way to get to the office from the center of campus is to go through the University Center (UC) and exit either to College Avenue or to the parking lot between the UC and Seacobeck. 

While there is parking available around the building and on College Avenue, Machado said the path from the accessible parking lot between the UC and Seacobeck has a steep incline that may be difficult for people in a wheelchair. The other accessible parking lot is located on the other side of the building, but it has a flatter path to ODR.

Four years ago, ODR brought students to tour Seacobeck and get their perspectives on the building. 

“Before Seacobeck was identified as a possible space, we actually took a group of students with varying disabilities out here before any of this renovation happened,” said Machado. “All of the students that we talked with, in general, felt like this was a better fit for our office.”

According to Interim Provost Tim O’Donnell, the decision to move ODR to Seacobeck can “be traced back to 2017.” Machado began working at UMW in Sept. 2017.

“When Jessica started here, one of her first priorities was to secure a larger space for ODR … because they had outgrown the space on the third floor of Lee Hall,” he said. “It was during this time that decisions were being made about what could go in to Seaco.”

Ultimately, “the administration is responsible for making decisions about buildings, space utilization and advocating to the state for new buildings and renovations of existing buildings,” said O’Donnell.

Machado credited the administration for securing ODR’s new space in Seacobeck.

“We’ve had an incredible amount of support … from administration to try to get us at least a functional space and to have us all be in the same location. Space is really limited on our campus,” said Machado. “It was really, I think, a blessing for us to be considered because a lot of people are clamoring for space.”

According to Hobson, the Seacobeck construction began in April 2019 and is expected to finish this March.

“While the project is substantially complete, there are still some long lead materials and equipment expected to arrive later this month and into March,” he said. “Whiting-Turner, the construction manager for the project, has completed a significant amount of the punchlist items and is expected to achieve final completion in March.”

Machado noted the importance of including people with disabilities in all decisions.

“Whenever you’re making any kind of decision, but especially with regard to people with disabilities, including people with disabilities in the conversation is huge,” she said.