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Barrier Free Access Statement

Michigan State University's efforts to remove physical barriers to program accessibility date from the late 1960's.  Among the earliest projects was the installation of curb cuts for persons with mobility impairments to facilitate their ability to move around the campus.  One of the earliest written documents that affirmed the University’s commitment to including individuals with disabilities was an affirmative action plan for persons with disabilities adopted on November 15, 1974. The Michigan State University Affirmative Action Plan for   Handicappers[1] (as it was titled at that time) was designed to provide equal opportunity for persons with disabilities among the University's academic and non-academic personnel as well as to make the University's programs more attractive and accessible to students with   disabilities.  In part the policy stated that the University will:

(1.) Initiate and continue to expand its construction and reconstruction programs as well as such other activities related to its physical and attitudinal environment (e.g. policies, priorities, procedures, purchasing, replacement, maintenance) so as to establish and increase participatory equality for handicappers within the University's academic and employment opportunities. (2.) All educational programs, curricula and services at all levels of the University will be equally available and relevant to handicappers.

Three years later (1977) development of a transition plan to accomplish the systematic removal of physical barriers began shortly after regulations for implementing Subpart C-Program Accessibility, Section 504, of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, were published.  The Section 504 regulations prescribed a wide range of requirements for universities, one of the most challenging of which was to provide physical accessibility for persons with disabilities to programs or activities available through these institutions when   alternate means were not effective.  As part of this requirement, the Federal Regulations stipulated development of a "transition plan" identifying the structural, or architectural barriers to program accessibility on the campus, the specific methods to be used for their removal, a schedule to make programs accessible, and designation of an office responsible for implementing the plan.  Considerable effort occurred on the Michigan State University campus aimed at producing the transition plan.  The history of this early activity is carefully documented in a report by then Vice President Perrin to President Harden dated May 17, 1978.   Following on these earliest efforts, an initial plan was written in October 1978.

To continue the work on what was, by its nature, a dynamic rather than a static plan, an Assistant to the Director of the Department of Human Relations (now Human Resources) in the area of persons with disabilities and veteran affairs was appointed in 1982.   One of the initiatives undertaken with the leadership of this new position was a comprehensive survey of the University's elevator system -- "Transition Planning Study 1983" --  focusing on the additional, or improved, academic program access to be gained by eliminating barriers to vertical circulation. A task force including persons with disabilities and representatives of student organizations was also assembled to assist with the effort and identify structural or other barriers to program accessibility at Michigan State University. This group produced a report, "The Spartan Challenge:  Accommodating the Spectrum of Individual Abilities," during the Fall, 1983.  Finally, these ideas were incorporated in a draft revision of the 1978 document produced in March 1985.  Additional refinements occurred during the next few years and in March 1989, the Michigan State University's Board of Trustees adopted the MSU Transition Plan.  All of this work, and the work of many others before and since 1977, is available for review in the University Archives.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became federal law reinforcing and extending the requirements of the Federal   Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The ADA extends the coverage of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to those public and private owned entities, which do not receive federal funding.  The act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment practices, telecommunications, transportation, public accommodations and programs.  Title II of this act, which became effective January 26, 1992, addresses the programs, services and activities of public entities, which includes Michigan State University.  Further, the ADA addresses not only facilities but also requires that all of the policies and procedures utilized to conduct the University's programs have the effect of providing equal access to individuals with disabilities. There are two key program accessibility concepts under the ADA:

The University's programs must be made handicapper[2] accessible when needed. Programs must be scheduled in accessible and accommodating facilities when handicappers want to attend or when handicapper attendance cannot be predicted. Auxiliary aids and services must   be provided when they are requested, however, the University is not responsible for anticipating an individual handicapper's needs.  Handicappers must assume responsibility for requesting auxiliary aids or services they need in order to participate in University programs or utilize services... A program must be accessible when examined as a whole, or when viewed in its entirety.   This means that even though all portions of the program may not be accessible, enough parts are accessible to ensure equal opportunity for handicappers who may wish to participate. (Source: Title By Title: ADA's Impact on Postsecondary Education, 1992).

 Title II of the ADA required that each public entity conduct a self-evaluation to determine the extent to which its programs, services and activities for students or the public are accessible to   persons with disabilities.  The Michigan State University ADA self-evaluation of programs, services and activities was conducted in a yearlong project beginning May 1993.  The survey was intended to determine the extent to which University programs were accessible to persons with disabilities, to provide education about the ADA's requirements regarding program accessibility, and to increase the awareness of, and sensitivity to, a variety of issues concerning persons with disabilities.  Completed in April 1994, the self-evaluation concluded that:

“…overall, the University’s programs provide equal opportunity for participation of handicappers. In general:

Eligibility policies are not unlawfully discriminatory

Efforts are made to meet requests for handicapper accommodations

Practices are modified as needed to meet handicapper needs

Activities are located as needed in accessible and accommodating facilities”[3]

As a result of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act and in combination with the findings of the MSU Self Evaluation, a Transition Plan, as required by the 1973 Federal   Rehabilitation Act was no longer required.  However, this did not diminish the University’s commitment to planning for and making modifications to   existing facilities for the specific purpose of removing structural barriers, which inhibit program accessibility.  In fact, it is noteworthy   that the University continues to budget annually in excess of $300,000 to be   utilized for the purpose of removing architectural barriers to program access.  In addition and as a matter of practice, all facility renovation projects as well as new construction comply fully with, and in many cases go beyond, the construction codes for building accessibility.  And wherever possible, Michigan State University strives to employ concepts of universal design to more fully integrate accessibility features in new and existing structures thus facilitating comprehensive access.

Institutional Space Planning and Management (ISPM) has the responsibility for providing the leadership that leads to the development of barrier removal priorities. In carrying out this role, ISPM consults with other units such as the Resource Center for Person’s with Disabilities, the President's Advisory Committee for Disability Issues, and the Council for Students with Disabilities to receive input on updating priorities and redeveloping plans. ISPM works with other units such as Intercollegiate Athletics, Housing & Food Services, Physical Plant Division, and Campus Park & Planning to both update and implement the priorities, as well as ensure that design factors for persons with disabilities are considered in all projects. 

The number of programs Michigan State University offers regularly is, at the very least, in the hundreds.  Programs can be distributed and located in more than one   facility.  In some instances, one of the facilities may not be barrier free or only partially accessible while the other facility is accessible. In these cases, the building that is either not accessible or partially accessible may not need to be modified immediately.  Focusing on programmatic access (in its entirety) rather than the built environment solely is a primary consideration in determining barrier removal project priorities. And as necessary, priorities will be guided by and adjusted for changes in the location of programs, programmatic demand, available funding, and urgent individual needs.

With continued effort and sufficient resources, Michigan State University will not only retain its international reputation for leadership in removing barriers to higher education for persons with disabilities but will enhance that reputation.  In accordance with its land-grant philosophy, the University strives to be inclusive and accessible to all faculty, staff, students, and visitors.


Statement of Commitment and Definitions

Michigan State University is committed to providing equal opportunity for participation in all programs, services, and activities.  In this regard, MSU will continue to   create and maintain a physical environment in which at the very least, all programs are "accessible" and if possible, accommodating and user-friendly to persons with disabilities, as these terms are defined below.  As a part of this commitment, MSU has included in construction projects the evolving set of state and national accessibility/barrier free standards (established by code requirements) to provide an increasingly accessible learning and work environment.  Additionally and where possible, MSU will exceed the construction requirements striving towards the principles of an environment that is both accommodating and user-friendly. 

Plans for dealing with the duality of the inherent characteristics of the built environment and the diverse needs of persons with disabilities present a constant challenge in balancing priorities between a totally accommodating and user-friendly environment, and a plan which may be more modest, but acceptable under the requirements.   At any given point in time, the University's philosophy will be to deal   first with barriers severely limiting program access; then with modifications that more fully accommodate its population of persons with disabilities; and last with the many possible refinements of design and state-of-the-art technology that can render a facility more user-friendly.   In other words, the University will go beyond code requirements, to the extent possible, in the scope and design of individual barrier-removal projects.

Further, and as a matter of operating philosophy and practice, a fundamental aspect of MSU's facility planning is that it is holistic or comprehensive.   When planning the renovation of an existing  facility (a building or a space within) not only are the deferred maintenance and program needs considered, but also a premium is placed on addressing health, safety, and code requirements including accessibility for persons with disabilities.

The following are definitions related to removal of architectural barriers to accessibility:

ACCESSIBLE - Refers to any facility complying with the specific design requirements which provide approach and entry of a facility by persons with disabilities (e.g. grade level entry).

ACCOMMODATING - Refers to any facility that goes beyond compliance with the specific design requirements which provide approach and   entry and incorporates internal usability by persons with disabilities.  That is, a facility which includes elevator modifications or a new elevator if programmatically necessary, accessible toilet rooms minimally at one location in the building, accessible drinking fountains on each floor, multi-modal fire alarms in main corridors, ADA compliant signage, and campus and/or public telephone(s) that are conveniently available to persons with disabilities

USER-FRIENDLY - Refers to a facility exceeding specific design or technical requirements with regard to interior circulation, manipulation, or use by persons with disabilities (e.g. lever door hardware, hold-open devices on fire doors).

FACILITY - This term is defined as all or any portion of buildings, equipment, roads, walks, passageways, parking lots, or other real or personal property or interest in such property. For purposes of the present document, any element of the built environment that houses a program or activity.

PROGRAM - Refers to any event, service or activity offered by the University or any agency, organization or person receiving significant assistance from the University.   "Program" includes almost every aspect of the University including: departmental course offerings, research opportunities, cultural and athletic events, museum tours, housing, admission activities and academic/career advising, and events offered/sponsored by student organizations.

VIEWED IN ENTIRETY - Refers to overall program accessibility.  A program must be readily accessible, when examined as a whole.  This means that even though all portions of the program may not be accessible, enough parts are readily accessible in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the persons with a disability to ensure equal opportunity for all who may wish to participate.  For example, if the University offers two sections of Spanish 101, one section should be located in an accessible and accommodating facility if needed.  It is not necessary to locate both sections in order to make Spanish 101 accessible to persons with disabilities. Having one of the sections located in an accessible and accommodating facility would make the program accessible to persons with disabilities when   viewed in its entirety.  Program accessibility may be achieved by relocating activities or services, providing auxiliary aids and services, or modifying policies to ensure programs that are readily and equitably available.

[1] The word handicapper has not been changed because the reference is made in regards to a historical and recorded report.        

[2] The word “handicapper” has not been changed to “persons with disabilities” because the statement is a direct quote from the source document: Title by Title: ADA’s   Impact on Postsecondary Education, 1992.

[3] Memorandum: ADA Self Evaluation, April 30, 1994 from C. Keith Groty, Assistant Vice President for Human resources and Chair of the ADA Self-Evaluation Committee.