MavPODs’ accessibility issues result in Education Department complaint

A Minnesota State University, Mankato professor has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging the university’s new $1 million MavPOD project offers unequal access to students with disabilities.

Nancy Fitzsimons, professor of social work, said she and nine students conducted research on the accessibility level of the MavPODs. The research found students with physical disabilities would need to travel further, requiring more time, to find MavPods with the same ease of students without disabilities.

“They accepted my complaint of a Title II ADA violation of discrimination against people with mobility disabilities,” Fitzsimons said.  “The State’s Attorney’s Office is representing the University.”

The report, compiled by Fitzsimons and the students, says the MavPods have been “enthusiastically promoted as a beneficial resource to faculty, staff and most notably students. They are scattered across campus, with an invitation to request that additional locations be added, suggestive of plans for continued investment. The MavPODS are now part of the campus tour for prospective students and their families.”

The research was done by calculating how long it would take to find a suitable, nearby MavPOD for a person walking, a person in a wheelchair, and a person in a wheelchair who first went to a regular MavPOD, then rerouted themselves to a wheelchair-accessible MavPOD.

Those times varied greatly, with people using wheelchairs left with the longest journeys to find a suitable pod.

The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The MavPODs were added at the beginning of the semester to give students a quiet place to study. They were immediately met with pushback, however, as most of them are not wheelchair accessible. The university said there were larger MavPods in the library.

“There is a 13 building (inaccessible MavPODs) to 2 building (larger MavPODs) ratio,” the Fitzsimons class report reads. “There is a 100 inaccessible MavPOD to 4 larger MavPOD ratio. The chairs placed in the larger MavPODs make the space less readily accessible for people with mobility disabilities. The accessible spaces in the library are not private spaces, nor are they comparable to the MavPOD experience.

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