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Tunnels access: Perspective from a student with physical disabilities

Wright State University has nearly two miles of tunnels beneath its Ohio campus
University Business, May 2015

Dan Darkow, age 21 and graduating this spring from Wright State University in Ohio, is president of the National Residence Hall Honorary and a resident assistant. He serves as director of disability affairs for the WSU student government, and he also happens to get around in a wheelchair due to a form of muscular dystrophy.

With plans to pursue a master’s degree in higher education student affairs so that he can help serve students with disabilities at Wright State, Darkow took the time to answer some questions about the nearly two miles of tunnels at his university and how they are helpful to him and others.

How do the tunnels help you to get around campus?

The tunnels at Wright State increase my level of independence and free mobility greatly around our campus. Once I am inside of any academic building, the student union or library, I am able to access the rest of campus underground. This is a huge help for combatting inclement weather or avoiding traffic above ground. The tunnels offer a flat ground that I can easily move across without any bumps, ditches, or obstacles in the way.

Did you choose the school in part because of its tunnels, and if so did you tour them back when you were looking at schools?

Yes, the tunnels did play a part in my decision-making process for where I would attend undergrad. It was a highlight to my tour as I was waiting to see what all the hype was about. When I witnessed the complexity the first time and all the different paths I thought I would never get it down.

Now the tunnels are as familiar to me as finding my way around my house. Navigating to class becomes second nature underground and before you know it you don't realize how you got there, but you're there!

Having the tunnels enable me to not have to extensively plan how I am going to get from class to class if it is raining outside or bitter cold. I don't have to work around a shuttle schedule, I can just use the tunnels whenever I need.

Attending WSU has been the best decision I have ever made in my life—no question.

How does getting around on campus differ from getting around out in the community?

In my experience getting around campus is definitely easier than getting around out in the community. There are different mobility options that allow students with disabilities to schedule rides off campus, but it does take more planning.

The Dayton community as a whole has adopted some accessible practices that are visible on Wright State's campus that have given students more independence once already out in the community. This is present when looking at the height for automatic door openers and putting them on most retail locations in the area, such as the local movie theater.

In what ways is tunnel system helpful for all students and faculty on campus?

The tunnels are embraced by all students, faculty and staff as a means of transportation from one location to another on campus. No one likes to go outside in the freezing weather, snow, rain or wicked wind.

The tunnels appeal to all as a safe means of transportation, and some use it as a space to do their daily walking for exercise. This attribute is something unique and special to Wright State and helps the university excel in offering a space for students with all types of disabilities to obtain an education.

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