Grad student fights for more housing accessibility

Elizabeth+Bushnell+is+using+her+voice+to+fight+for+more+accessibility+at+Blvd+63+apartments.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Bushnell

Elizabeth Bushnell is using her voice to fight for more accessibility at Blvd 63 apartments.

by Katelynn Robinson, News Editor

Doing laundry, swimming in a pool and taking the shuttle to school are everyday tasks many students partake in. While these tasks are second nature to most, they can come with many obstacles for others. 

San Diego State geography graduate student Elizabeth Bushnell is a tenant at Blvd 63 Apartments located on 6345 El Cajon Blvd. These off-campus apartments are not affiliated with SDSU housing; however, many students live there. She said her views on the situation at Blvd 63 are hers and hers alone as she is not affiliated with the complex other than being a tenant. 

Bushnell has a disability that requires a wheelchair. She has leased her apartment at Blvd 63 for almost two months and so far she said she has struggled with laundry, transportation and using the pool. 

Bushnell said she took a tour of the apartments over the summer. She did not see the pool or the shuttles on this tour. She did see the washers and dryers and said she was assured Blvd 63 would work with her to meet her needs. She stated this has not been the case, however.

“An amenity of the complex is in-unit laundry but it is a very narrow laundry closet with stacking units,” Bushnell said. “So, a side-by-side front-loading [unit], which is what I would typically use, is not available. And that poses a real hygiene issue for me personally because I have medical issues that are apparent in my laundry and it is very personally and professionally embarrassing. So, the apartment’s original solution was to have a staff member come here on Fridays and I have been paying them $20 a week to do one load of laundry.”

Bushnell explained one of her concerns with having a staff member do her laundry once a week was the laundry being left to sit for a week. She said it would make her apartment smell sometimes and when she brought this up to management they suggested she pay a staff member to come two or three times a week which would cost $40 or $60. 

She said it was even suggested to her that she get her friends or parents to do her laundry instead. 

“It is not my parents’ job to handle how I do my laundry and it is certainly not my friend’s,” Bushnell said. “I am 23 and a free-living adult and I have been since age 18. The problem is not with my independence but rather the accommodations here.”

The second issue she faced in the complex is the lack of lifts to the two pools and hot tub in the complex. 

“That is another reason I moved here because I have a lot of joint pain so low impact exercise options are very beneficial to me and I would like the same access to amenities as other residents have,” Bushnell said. 

The third issue is that only one of the three shuttles running between the apartments and SDSU’s main campus has a wheelchair lift. So, she has to wait much longer for that particular shuttle to be available.

“…I take the shuttle and there is a girl in a wheelchair there and she’ll wait at the shuttle stop and then they’ll be like ‘oh, this isn’t the [one].’ They only have one wheelchair-accessible bus so it’s not always there,” Blvd 63 resident and SDSU student Tamara Udayakumar said. 

Udayakumar said she has had a positive experience overall since moving this August. She said  some pros of living at Blvd 63 include timely repairs, resident activities and roommate selection. 

Bushnell said she has been pushing for change in the apartment complex for approximately two months. When she posted a petition on Wednesday, Oct. 7, the building management called a meeting the following Friday to inform her of a new laundry unit was being shipped to them. She said she has yet to see it. They also said in this meeting they do have a pool lift, however, it needs to be serviced, Bushnell said. 

“I had been pushing on these issues for two months and within two days the petition got that action,” Bushnell said. “I just want equal access to the facilities here that I pay for, that the other residents pay for and enjoy. I mean my rent here is $1800 a month, I should be able to live here.” 

Her petition has accumulated over 300 signatures, including SDSU Professor Rachel Schlesinger, who teaches a Disability and Society course. 

“I found this petition because of a student of ours,” Schlesinger said. “I teach the Disability and Society class at State, I co-teach it…Housing is one of those things that is kind of taken for granted in the sphere of education……I feel very passionate about [it] in terms of you know this student is fighting the battles of just getting access to her own house. ”

International security third year, Valeria Hutchings is a friend of Bushnell’s and said she has witnessed the management’s treatment towards Bushnell.

“They were definitely talking down,” Hutchings said. “And I am so glad I went with Elizabeth that day, on the day when she was getting really frustrated because she had to yell to basically get them to realize it was a serious issue.”

Both Hutchings and Bushnell described management’s response to these issues as “dismissive” and as “talking in circles.” 

The Daily Aztec attempted to contact management at Blvd 63, and was referred to a manager who asked to be referred to as Nick from Residential Service. He said Blvd 63 is working to make accommodating changes. 

He said Blvd 63 is currently in the process of getting new amenities to make their space more accommodating for residents with disabilities.

When asked about Bushnell’s experience with management being dismissive, Nick said that is not their character. 

“That is not our character… a lot of us are brand new so we are trying to change a lot of things because things weren’t getting done with our previous management and stuff like that,” Nick said. 

According to Nick, previous management did not make much progress when it came to accommodating needs. 

“I feel like we just started,” Nick said. “We are taking those steps to get there. We are not pushing them to the side to say they are not getting their needs met.” 

Hutchings asked management if they were working to have any temporary alleviations that would help disabled residents for the time being.

“They said ‘no, that’s not our responsibility,’” Hutchings said. “I think even though it is not in the leasewhich was their reasoningit just shows their character and their groundings.” 

In her petition, Bushnell said the only change she has seen in the apartments is a change in her stove which she is now able to use. 

Bushnell said situations like this “don’t exist in a vacuum.” 

“Because when a space is not designed for you it carries the pervasive and distinct message that you do not belong here, you are different, you are less than,” Bushnell said. “And coming from your living community in particular, that is toxic.”

She said the people in power need to be stood up to for “needlessly complicating” lives. 

“Change starts with your voice, so that’s what I am doing,” Bushnell said. “The management has attempted to get me to take this petition down but I refuse until all of my issues are addressed.” 

 

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