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Making Ohio State more accessible for all


In 1972, the Senior Class Committee broke tradition of normal senior gifts left to the university. Instead of adding structures to the Ohio State campus, they decided to modify current ones, paving the way to greater accessibility for students with disabilities.

“I never realized how many steps are on this campus.” The revelation came to student Marcia Ornsby on an April day in 1972 as she tried to find her way around Ohio State blindfolded. Steps also were an obstacle for university president Novice Fawcett and Buckeye basketball standout Luke Witte, who were among the notables who spent part of Disability Day blindfolded or in wheelchairs.

Ornsby, president of the Women Self Government Association, removed her blindfold after just three hours, telling a Lantern reporter that the exercise had been tense and “extremely tiring.” Point taken. Persons with disabilities faced physical barriers at Ohio State that interfered in ways large and small with their desire to make the most of their educational opportunities.

“I never realized how many steps are on this campus.” 

Marcia Ornsby

The Senior Class Committee of 1972 sponsored Disability Day during its drive to raise $75,000 to make campus more accessible to those with impairments. It was a break with the tradition of senior gift projects, which typically solicited class members for donations to support campus features such as flagpoles, benches and building plaques. By mid-April the fund drive was nearly halfway to its goal. At a kickoff banquet before Disability Day, Julie Cochran, a graduate student with paraplegia, talked about how well-meaning people had tried to discourage her from going to college because of how difficult it would be for her to get around. Only three or four buildings were easily accessible to the nearly 700 disabled students at Ohio State, she said.

Campus planner Jean Hansford told the Lantern that part of the money raised would be invested and part would be used to begin modifying buildings. “We haven’t been doing very much around here for the handicapped,” Hansford admitted.

The Senior Class Committee met its goal during spring quarter, qualifying Ohio State to receive an additional $300,000 in federal funds.

At its September meeting that year, the Board of Trustees noted that the university had been complying with the Ohio Building Code, which specified that starting in 1967 new construction and major remodeling projects had to satisfy requirements for accessibility. The problem lay with the many older buildings on campus, combined with a street pattern that presented “severe obstructions” to mobility.

The trustees recommended improvements including wheelchair ramps and modifications to elevators, as well as the purchase of accessible vans. Construction began soon afterward.

The next year’s Senior Class Committee took its cue from its predecessor and raised more than $50,000 to establish library facilities to help blind students and set up an emergency loan fund for students with disabilities.

The university’s Office of the Physically Impaired opened the following year. Now called Student Life Disability Services, the office collaborates with faculty and staff to create an accessible educational experience for the more than 3,000 students affiliated with it. “Students with disabilities continue to be philanthropists, activists and leaders on Ohio State’s campus every day,” says director Cheryl Lyons.