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HEW Regulations on the Handicapped Bring Opposition From Administration

By Jonathan H. Alter

Recently issued Health Education and Welfare guidelines stipulating that all federally-aided colleges and universities make their facilities accessible to the handicapped have raised objections from the Harvard administration.

Joe B. Wyatt, vice-president for administration, said yesterday there is "overkill" in the regulations "above and beyond what will be required to accommodate handicapped students."

"What is at issue is whether buildings have to be corrected even if they are not used by the handicapped," Wyatt said, adding that the strict regulations are open to interpretation on this point.

While acknowledging that the cost of implementing the regulations as they stand would be very high, he refused to speculate exactly how much the University would have to spend or how long it would take to reach compliance.

The guidelines--which go into effect Friday--stipulate that all structural changes must be made within three years. The regulations are designed to carry out Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which bans discrimination against the disabled.

"The University has generally responded to specific needs--and that's different than adapting all buildings," Wyatt said, adding that Harvard began making improvements before learning of the impending regulations.

Wyatt stressed Harvard's continuing commitment to the handicapped but said he expects the regulations will be revised in order to make them more practical.

Mark Fiedler '78, co-chairman of Advocating a Better Learning Environment, a group designed to present the needs of Harvard's handicapped, said yesterday the University has persisted in dealing with the problem solely on an ad hoc basis.

"There is no indication of a commitment financially or administratively on a long-range approach to deal with the subject," he said, adding he was unsure if there are "any fully accessible buildings in the whole College."

Fiedler, one of four Harvard students confined to a wheelchair, said it is "not in the spirit of the law to segregate the handicapped" by adapting only certain facilities for their use.

Fiedler charged that a "Catch-22" was at work. "The University is so inaccessible that the handicapped don't apply, hence the University sees no need to deal comprehensively with the problem."

He admitted, however, that the administration's short-range modifications were a start. "It's going to take awhile," he said.

Donald A. Warner, a policy planner in charge of indoor modifications for the disabled, said yesterday that Harvard is seeking a long-term permanent solution. Wooden ramps, for instance, will give way to concrete ones, he said.

He noted, however, that "the short range issues are the crucial ones." Warner said "patchwork" modifications are being made on Boylston, Sever, Robinson, and Emerson Halls among others.

"The regulations aren't forcing us to do anything we haven't been doing already," he said.

A spokesman for ABT Associates Inc., a consulting organization which surveyed several hundred institutions on their accessability to the disabled, said yesterday Harvard has made considerable improvement in accommodating the handicapped during the last school year

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