By Molly Williamson
A primary goal of the University of Kentucky’s new $2.1 billion campaign is to improve access to education. A recent gift from an anonymous donor is doing just that – ensuring that all UK students can access their classes.
The donor made a gift to the University of Kentucky’s Disability Resource Center to help purchase two wheelchair-accessible golf carts that can be used to transport students with mobility restrictions from their residence halls to the door of their classroom buildings. Both golf carts are Cushman Shuttle 8 models, which accommodate two passengers in wheelchairs as well as a driver and four more passengers, said Alan Houp ’00, vice president of golf cart sales at Dever Inc., the Lexington company providing the golf carts.
“The Shuttle 8 ADA is tailor made for campus shuttling,” Houp said. “The momentary start feature allows the engine to start and stop when the accelerator pedal is pressed or depressed. This feature allows the shuttle driver to safely navigate in close quarters and offers a smooth take-off for added safety and comfort of the driver and passenger.”
The gift builds on the university’s already successful Paratransit Services, a program that acts as a ride sharing service, allowing students registered with the Disability Resource Center to schedule rides to class.
UK Transportation Services launched the door-to-door service a few years ago using its Wildcab vehicles, said Jamie Hutchins, transportation manager. The vans initially ran on a schedule, picking up people from designated locations and dropping them off at specific stops. However, Transportation Services found that the service was more effective when set up like a Lyft or Uber.
Starting in spring 2018, Transportation Services piloted the on-demand model, allowing students to schedule their own rides via the Wildcab app.
“We saw the number of rides go up and the number of no-shows go down,” Hutchins said. “We dropped from a 40 percent no-show rate to less than 1 percent.”
The Paratransit Services could help attract students to the university, said David Beach, director of the Disability Resource Center. It shows students with physical limitations that they can easily navigate campus.
“As the university continues to expand its footprint and to make the campus more walkable, it puts pressure on students to find convenient housing or to be more intentional when traversing the campus,” Beach said. “While closing streets makes the campus friendlier for most students, it limits parking and access for students with physical impairments. Paratransit Services helps fix that problem. Students do not have to deal with traffic, and they can be picked up and dropped off close to the building.”
But the golf carts, tentatively named the Wildcarts, will get students even closer to their desired destination, Beach said. It will truly be door-to-door service, especially for the buildings in the center of campus. The golf carts can also take students to sporting or other off-campus events that they had difficulty attending before. Also, they reduce the amount of traveling a student has to do in the rain or snow.
“The most important thing is to make sure students get to class,” Beach said. “Every time we get a student to class that they otherwise would have missed because they did not have access, we increase the likelihood that they are going to succeed academically.”
The carts were an unexpected surprise. After seeing a similar program at Auburn University, Beach put a wheelchair-accessible golf cart on his wish list. Shortly after, a donor with a long history of providing resources for students with physical limitations offered to fund the project.
“This gift will make a big impact on students’ lives,” Beach said. “Though the donor does not want any recognition, we want to make sure that person knows how transformative this gift is and how much we appreciate that person’s generosity.”