Jeff Butler

Last week Jeff Butler, a management information systems senior, arrived 30 minutes late to his database management class. Butler uses a wheelchair and can only take accessible routes through campus, so when he can’t find handicap parking near his classes, he usually cannot make it on time.

“I usually go up a hill to Whitis Avenue toward the Tower, where I can take the handicap ramp toward the South Mall and then cruise down a hill toward the business school,” Butler said. “It’s not ideal, but I’m used to it by now.”

Butler said he usually finds parking on Inner Campus Drive near the McCombs School of Business but has missed class on multiple occasions when no parking spaces were available.

As is the case with most parking permits, the University doesn’t have as many parking spaces for the disabled as permits sold by Parking and Transportation Services. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, state accessibility standards require entities to designate about 2 percent of parking spaces for disability parking, and one out of every eight accessible parking spaces must also be van-accessible.

The University provides 495 parking spaces for the disabled on campus, 178 more than required by state guidelines. Spaces for the disabled make up a little more than 3 percent of approximately 16,000 parking spaces on campus.

“The overarching problem is that there are not enough parking spaces on campus to begin with, but there is no good solution to this, so it’s hard to get upset and fuss about it,” Butler said.

Disabilities services coordinator Emily Shryock said students with disabilities sometimes face additional physical barriers after finding parking.

“Students may find parking close to the building they need to get to, but then there’s a giant hill in between where they parked and the building’s entrance,” Shryock said.

Services for Students with Disabilities promotes the public shuttle system as alternative transportation, but this does not always provide a clear solution for disabled individuals when bus stops are not located near a building, Shryock said.

“This leaves the students to navigate their way to their actual classroom,” Shryock said. “There’s a gap there even if the campus hustles to eliminate the challenges that come with parking on campus.”

In 2009 UT contracted Accessology, an accessibility inspection company, to survey accessible routes on campus. Shryock, who serves on a University committee working with the company, said they have identified a lack of parking for the disabled near the School of Social Work and Gregory Gym.

The University provides regular disability parking placards for $110-$138 and temporary disability parking permits for $10-$12 to the UT community if individuals provide proper documentation to prove their disability.

Parking spaces for the disabled must be on the shortest accessible route of travel to an accessible entrance, according to state guidelines.

Bobby Stone, Parking and Transportation Services director, said the University is looking into on-campus transportation services to assist students who are left to park in spaces that require extensive commutes to their classes.

Butler said he emails his professors when he has to miss class because he is unable to find parking near an accessible route, and professors usually provide an overview of what was covered in class.
“They are typically OK with it,” Butler said. “But there is no solution to missing class.”

Printed on October 26, 2012 as: Accessible spots elude drivers

Emily Shryock, a sociology graduate student and sophomore accounting major Jeff Butler play for UTÂ’s wheelchair rugby team, Texas Stampede. Both Shryock and Butler were selected to represent the United States on the national development wheelchair rugby team, Team Force, making them contenders for a spot on Team USA for the Paralympic Games in 2012.

Photo Credit: Amanda Martin | Daily Texan Staff

“About every tournament I’ll rip the knuckles on the back of my hand open from pushing and stuff,” said Jeff Butler, a junior in the McCombs School of Business who plays wheelchair rugby for the Texas Stampede, the Austin club team. “Really nothing that requires stitches or a hospital trip, just a lot of Band-Aids and anti-bacterial cream.”

Butler is talking about wheelchair rugby — the sport that he describes as “intense” and some call “murderball” — a reference to the broken fingers, overturned wheelchairs and other injuries that tend to occur when eight paraplegic athletes (both male and female) in custom-built, enforced wheelchairs gather on a basketball court and battle each other full-throttle for the ball in a game of ice hockey, basketball and bumper cars gone mad.

“In my rugby career I’ve broken two fingers and I bruised my ribs pretty severely this past December,” said Butler’s teammate Emily Shryock, a disabilities service coordinator in the UT Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. “Most of the time, it’s nothing too serious. Bruises and scrapes, things like that.”

Butler and Shryock were both selected in May to represent the United States as players on the national developmental wheelchair rugby team, Team Force. The team is designed to bridge the gap between the United States club circuit and the international circuit by identifying and preparing the next generation of wheelchair rugby players for international play.

In December, Butler and Shryock will travel to the Lakeshore Foundation Paralympic Training Site in Birmingham, Ala. where Paralympic athletes train for their respective events. The tryout will determine who will play on Team USA in the 2012 Paralympic Games, which will be held in London. The tryout will be run like an athletic camp — “it’s basically a long weekend,” Butler said — that will involve three-a-day practices and a series of cuts until the final team lineup is chosen.

“The tryouts are very intense,” Shryock, 24, said. “The standards that they’re using and they’re looking for are the same that would be found in any elite top-level sport. Players who are team players and who are comfortable with the commitment and the determination it takes to make it to that top level.”

For Butler and Shryock, who both moved to Austin from Indiana in 2010 so they could play for Texas Stampede, the December tryout is something they’ve been working towards since their days of playing for Indianapolis’ team, the Indy Brawlers.

“I moved to Austin to play rugby,” Butler, 21, said. “The rugby’s better, the school is better, the sports are better.”

Shryock and Butler said that the Stampede’s excellence in the sport can be partly attributed to the coaching of James Gumbert, who Stampede players call “Gumbie.” Gumbert, who also happens to be the commissioner of the United States Quad Rugby Association and the coach of Team USA, has been playing wheelchair rugby for 20 years and led the team to gold at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. Gumbert said that for him, the medals are only part of the game; touching athletes’ lives and the inclusion that comes with wheelchair rugby are just as important.

“There’s a place for everyone at our table,” Gumbert said. “The fact that you’re old or young or you’re a guy or a girl or you’ve got one arm or an amputation above your elbow — that’s what’s groovy about it, it’s just a really inclusive sport.”

His coaching style gave players like Butler and Shryock incentive to move to Austin to play ball.

“I knew that by moving down here I would have a lot better coaching opportunities,” Butler said. “It’s really important in player development to have a really active and really good coach and that’s what I have down here in Austin. It’s important in helping me achieve my goals, which is to be on Team USA.”

The weeks and months between now and the tryout in December will find Butler and Shryock playing ball with the Stampede, whose season begins in October. They’ll be able to practice game technique and strategy with the team while training independently to work on endurance, quickness and strength in Gregory Gym. Practice won’t spare them murderball’s aggression, but by now it’s something the two are used to.

“It’s hand injuries, that’s all,” Butler said. “We have pretty messed up hands. But it’s worth it.”

Printed on September 20, 2011 as: 'Murderballers' take on tough rugby