12 On Your Side: Wheelchair access questions

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you can't get to class in your wheelchair, how attainable is a college degree? A 19-year-old called 12 On Your Side for help.

You met Kionna Jones when she was 13. A man shot her in the neck when she refused to give him her sun glasses, back in 2006. A bullet left her paralyzed and in a wheelchair. 12 On Your Side stayed in touch with the family over the years, helping Kionna's mom get a handicap van and accessible housing. Six years later, the college freshman is speaking up for herself about difficulty getting around Virginia State University.

Kionna's complaint questions whether a public university is providing all it should to handicap students under the "Americans With Disabilities Act". She's missing classes. She says because of broken elevators and V.S.U. needs to increase access. V.S.U. says the elevators are not broken and it's 100% in compliance with A.D.A.

Kionna Jones takes the same route to class from her Howard Hall dorm across the V.S.U. campus every day. Three different days we walked her path and saw the freshman in a wheelchair blocked by obstacles other students go around.

"It just makes me mad. It's just little things like this, that. I can't go any other way. I can't go up stairs. So, how am I going to get to class? All I can do is email my teacher," Kionna said.

The elevator in Hunter-McDaniel shut down the same day we started documenting accessibility on camera. Another time in Harris Hall Kionna got stuck, she says, on an upper floor after class, when the elevator wasn't working. Eight missed classes she blames on broken elevators.

"After I got shot…after high school, I just thought 'OK that's all I'm going to do', but I still wanted to further my education. There are still things that I want to become," she said. "I feel like they're taking away from my education."

V.S.U.'s response acknowledges one broken elevator that had a faulty circuit and was repaired over several days. All others were taken "out of service", it says, for safety certification.  It "apologizes" to "anyone inconvenienced by routine inspections".

"To the best of my knowledge, we are incompliance with A.D.A. requirements," said Thomas Reed with V.S.U Media Relations.

Kionna's missed classes are always excused.

"We let the professors know. We are very sensitive to the fact that she is missing classes. We want to accommodate her by allowing her to makeup the classes without being marked down or any kind of penalty," Reed added.

"I want to go to class. No excuses. I just want to go to class," Kionna said.

Attorney Brian Adams, experienced in A.D.A. litigation, says the law requires reasonable accommodations.

"Ensuring that there are adequate ramps into the entrance of the building. Doorways wide enough for a wheelchair," Adams explained.

Not the removal of all barriers. But, he thinks substituting makeup work for missed classes is a civil rights violation that robs Kionna of an opportunity other students have.

"A classroom could be moved to the first floor that accommodates a person in a wheelchair without having to go to the expense of putting in an elevator or if it's cost prohibitive repairing one," he said.

V.S.U. says it doesn't have classroom space. It would involve moving 40 other people. Also it believes it's in full compliance with A.D.A. regulations.

"You've got kids out here whose walking and don't want to go to school. My daughter is in a wheelchair. She wants to go to school. She does everything she's supposed to do. Why can't they do what they're supposed to do?" asked Kionna's mother Katrina Jones.

The man who shot Kionna six years ago, Delano King, is serving 20 years at Buckingham Prison. His release date is 2025.

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