Accessibility issues tied to MavPODs on campus

MavPODs arrived at the Minnesota State University, Mankato campus in August, and since then there has been concern raised about their accessibility.

The MavPODs were created to give students and faculty a quiet space to study or attend meetings without outside distractions. 

The concern with accessibility to these pods centers on the small step required to get into the pods, and people with mobility disabilities aren’t always able to do this. The small space in the pods also doesn’t provide enough room for people to comfortably sit, especially for those with limited mobility.

Nancy Fitzsimons, professor of social work at MNSU, noticed this problem right away and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

“The complaint is a Title II violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complaint essentially states that people with mobility disabilities are being discriminated against in their access to the programs and services of our University comparable to people without mobility disabilities,” Fitzsimons stated. 

The complaint, originally filed in September, had to go through various other stages before ending up at the department. 

“I made that initial complaint in September to the federal agency that has oversight, and that’s the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. I first called the Great Lakes ADA Technical Assistance Center to see if my interpretation was actually a violation,” Fitzsimons explained. “Based on the information I gave them, they indicated they did think it was a violation, and then they referred me to talk to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Then I contacted them and they instructed me to fill out the discrimination complaint form, which I did.”

To strengthen the complaint, Fitzsimons discussed the topic with her Introduction to Social Work class, and the students expressed the same frustrations. With this, the students conducted research on the MavPODs and wrote up a report highlighting the complications with the pods. 

Avalon Luehman was one of the nine students involved with the research and was surprised to learn about the visible problems that are invisible to others.

“When I first saw them [MavPODs] I was wondering what they were because they looked like phone booths. But then once I heard what they were, I was kind of thinking it was cool the school did that. I guess, since I’m not in a wheelchair and I have good mobility, I never had to think about that before,” Luehman stated. 

“Once Dr. Fitzsimons brought it up in class it was like I couldn’t shut my brain off to the fact that people who are in a wheelchair aren’t able to use them.”

​​Mark Johnson, Vice President for Technology, presented the MavPOD concept to the MNSU Student Government this semester before the pods arrived on campus and addressed the question of accessibility.

“We did know going in that we couldn’t do the accessible ones for some period of time, so that’s the best we could do. I shouldn’t say that’s the best we could do, that’s the best we did at the time,” Johnson stated.

In her part of the research, Luehman started off at a specific location on campus and then noted how long it took her to walk from that spot to an inaccessible MavPOD and then from there to an accessible spot in the Memorial Library.

“For me it was Trafton South on the third floor, and from there I went to Armstrong to find an inaccessible MavPOD and then I went to the library to find an accessible study space,” Luehman explained.

According to the report, it would take someone 74 seconds to walk to the closest MavPOD in Trafton South 350 without any restrictions, but it would take 19 minutes to arrive at the same closest MavPOD with restrictions imposed.

From here, there were no accessible MavPODs in close proximity to Trafton South, resulting in the closest accessible study space to be located in the library. The walk from Trafton South 350 to the library is approximately 26 minutes, with restrictions imposed.

Once conducting and organizing this research, Luehman is hoping there will be some changes made to the MavPODs to make them available for everyone.

“What I’m hoping is that the department is going to stay true to its word of diversity and inclusion for all. Maybe the MavPODs need to go, maybe they need to double up on the things that are accessible for everybody,” Luehman commented.

To help resolve this, Luehman pointed out that everyone needs to be included in the large decisions being made about the campus.

“Because accessible MavPODs weren’t introduced from the beginning and they are supposedly supposed to come in 2022, it shows that it does matter who is at the table when these decisions are made,” Luehman stated. “We need more inclusivity and diversity and different perspectives when it comes to the people making the decisions about our campus.”

The university’s statement on the matter was: “Minnesota State University, Mankato looks forward to working with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to ensure the University is meeting all federal accessibility requirements for the MavPods on campus.”

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