Why isn't Healey Library accessibility a top priority?

A crowd of students walk through the fenced pathway between Wheatley Hall and the Quinn Administration Building.

The walk from McCormack to Healey Library…I could write about a thousand words about that situation alone, but I’m sure you all share the frustration. Even beyond the construction disruption, I cannot fathom why the original architect thought that building a library in the center of campus with no stairway or elevator access directly to the base of the structure was a good idea. Relying solely on the elevated walkways seems mind-bogglingly shortsighted to me. However, it doesn’t surprise me too much since our Columbia Point campus was built in the mid-70’s—fifteen years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by the George H.W. Bush administration.

Since mid-2020, students have had to walk from McCormack, past the library itself, into Quinn Administration, up to the second floor and across the remaining skyway to get into Healey—a ridiculous state of affairs, but understandable for the short time period of construction. Last semester, it looked as if construction of the staircase and ground-floor elevator access was ready to go; evidently this was not the case. Upon returning to campus on Sept. 6, the designated walkway had simply been moved to the side on top of the new platform, the staircase hadn’t even been started yet, and ground-floor elevator access is still blocked off. Work had, instead, significantly moved forward in the center of campus, where the new quadrangle will be.

This is ridiculous and unacceptable. Ground-level access to the Healey Library is essential and should be a top priority.

Why does this matter to me so much? Well, I mentioned the Americans with Disabilities Act, and this is one major reason why. As someone who has loved ones with disabilities and has worked for a research organization dedicated to veterans’ affairs, it pains me to see people with canes, walkers, wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs forced to walk well past the building, up a flight of stairs and back around towards the library just to get into the darn place. It’s certainly a painful experience for people who have less visible disabilities as well. It’s a long walk—and the path is very exposed and unsheltered, which is a recipe for disaster in even mildly inclement weather. Two semesters ago, severe wind blew around the fences like Styrofoam, closing off the already inconvenient path to Healey and ripping off a sliding door to Campus Center—which, by the way, is still broken. I guess a million-dollar advertisement campaign and rebranding was seen as more important that fixing even a single broken door.

So, what’s the deal? There are elevators, but they are in Quinn, forcing students, staff and visitors to walk about twice as far as they would if ground-floor access was available at Healey. Last semester, I had to escort an elderly veteran from the library to Campus Center, which further solidified the ridiculousness of the circuitous path in my mind. They might think there is adequate elevator access but, ironically, the university seems to be having all kinds of elevator problems all around campus. This is particularly evident in Campus Center, where the fourth floor is quite literally inaccessible to wheelchair-bound individuals right now—and nearly inaccessible to those who have difficulty climbing and descending stairs—and the right elevator in the center of the building is cordoned off. So, how are we to trust that the much older elevators in Quinn won’t break down as well?

Even beyond making things difficult and painful for people with disabilities, I find that my friends and I often avoid going to Healey at all because of how much of a pain it is. Especially in inclement weather, it’s just not worth it most of the time; it’s a shame, because the Healey Library is one of my favorite places on campus. While impractical, it is a really interesting building—though why two of the staircases in the building are diagonal is, again, mindboggling to me—and much of my time has been spent there. I’ve studied in front of the gorgeous views across the harbor and the South Shore, worked for the amazing William Joiner Institute on the tenth floor with all the other research institutes, and recorded podcasts in a professional radio recording studio at the WUMB radio on the basement level. There are also a few cultural institutions, a tutoring center, a group project area and more; it’s an important building!

So, to the UMass Boston administration: Please get those stairs built and get elevator access opened up on the ground floor of Healey before anything else. It’s not only causing people with physical disabilities more pain but is also just a general disservice to everyone at the school. The only advice I can give students, staff and visitors is to make some noise about it, and don’t let the administration hear the end of it. We need that access!

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