As the site of countless performances and events, Seattle Pacific University’s McKinley Hall is a central hub for students, faculty and visitors. It is a place to build community and a place for all to take part in.
All, except for people like Daniel, that is.
23-year-old Daniel Carlson has cerebral palsy, preventing him from watching his sister, sophomore Kat Carlson, take part in any kind of show held in the base level of McKinley Hall.
“If I wanted to get down there [to the lower level], I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Currently, the theatre has two main accessible entrances. One entrance leads to the front row of seating, and the other leads directly onto the stage.
Additionally, the lobby of the theatre can be accessed by walking up the main staircase in front of McKinley Hall.
Only steep staircases allow access into the base level of the building, preventing anyone with a physical disability from taking part as an audience member or as a participant.
McKinley Hall hosts One Acts, Playground, senior projects, murder mystery and student directed projects throughout the course of the year in the lower level of the building.
The lower level also holds the bathroom entrances, makeup and costume labs, green room, studio theater and offices.
In light of these circumstances, Kat Carlson realized the need for change.
She began thinking seriously about the issue toward the end of the Winter Quarter when McKinley hosted One Acts, which took place in the base level of the building.
“I just kind of wanted to start asking questions about what had been done for the building and what we could do to improve this,” Carlson said.
After arranging various meetings to speak with campus leaders, she gleaned more practical information and ways to make this space accessible. Carlson spoke with VP of Student Life Jeff Jordan, VP of Facilities Dave Church and VP of Finance Craig Kispert.
Jordan appreciated hearing a student’s perspective and arranged for Kat to meet with Jeff Van Duzer, provost of SPU.
“The obstacles to making McKinley Hall more accessible are financial, building-related and timing,” said Kispert.
“Due to the significant cost associated with addressing accessibility in McKinley Hall the funding would likely need to come from an external source or as part of a larger building project funded either through fund raising or debt.”
Carlson met with Church, who gave her a clear idea of what the project would look like. During their meeting Church presented a draft of a ramp and discussed with Carlson next steps regarding prices and specifications.
The ultimate goal would be to create a ramp between McKinley Hall and Crawford or alternatively, build an elevator large enough to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. The measurements would be large enough to fit someone in a wheelchair.
McKinley Hall was built before the creation of the ADA in 1990, so the building was not created with these standards in mind and was not legally obligated to do so. By making McKinley accessible, the entire lower level would also need to be in compliance with ADA standards.
Carlson sees that the next step is to raise the funds to hire an architect to study the building with these ADA codes in mind. Currently, she is looking for ways to raise the money needed to do this.
Once an architect can investigate the building, the school will have a clear estimate of the costs and can potentially move forward from that point.
On March 29 Carlson held a disability forum in McKinley Hall to share a petition and give updates on progress that has been made thus far.
The petition states, “We, the undersigned students and faculty, petition for Seattle Pacific University to create a way for persons with temporary or permanent physical disabilities to gain access to the McKinley theater’s lower level, including the makeup lab, costume shop, restrooms, and studio theater.”
Senior Alex Holliday is involved in performances in McKinley Hall and also serves as the theatre’s House Manager.
“I am often the first point of contact for patrons who enter our space, and I have had many conversations throughout my time here with patrons who are frustrated with the lack of accessibility,” Holliday said.
“It has always been disheartening to hear that some audience members are not able to enter through our main doors, or even go downstairs to get a drink of water or use the restroom,” Holliday said.
Carlson says that she has been a part of many productions at various locations and that SPU’s studio theatre in McKinley Hall is the only location that her brother has not been able to access at all.
She recalls that both she and her brother are thrilled when they find doors that are large enough to fit his wheelchair.
“The standards should be higher,” Carlson said. “It should be welcoming and they should be able to get the full experience.”
Daniel Carlson believes that now is the time for the school to address the issue. “I would do whatever I could to get it fixed,” he said. “What [would] happen if [my sister] were not there? We need to do something now.”
Carlson and others see these issues with inaccessibility, and she hopes that students and faculty will also recognize them and put positive pressure on the school to come alongside her in this project.
Junior Theatre Education major Alex Garramone said, “We want as many professors and students involved as possible because this matters to all of us. I want to be a part of a community that works for everybody to be able to be included and does whatever it takes to make that happen.”
“Our school is so, so focused on this conversation of diversity, but I don’t think it’s taking into account people who are differently-abled,” Carlson said. “Every single person is diverse. Every single person has their own background and their own story, and they each make our campus more beautiful.”
Garramone attended Senate on Monday, April 17 to lobby for administration to fund an architect to come study the theatre.
“Our campus as a whole is often very inaccessible, and this project is a great place to start making changes so that inaccessibility can be an issue of the past,” Holliday said.
Carlson added, “Our mission statement as a school is to ‘engage the culture and change the world’ — the theatre department cannot engage the changing culture if we cannot let everyone into our front doors.”