People With Disabilities

Campus needs wheelchair access
Beth Kelly
I did not expect to be writing this article from first-hand experience, let me tell you that right off. I had been planning on writing a well-intentioned and most likely ineffective opinion piece regarding wheelchair access and Earlham’s lack thereof, trying to make myself feel like a compassionate and involved person …
The article would have started off with something along the lines of, “Have any of y’all noticed that we have no students in wheelchairs?” I hope that I am still a compassionate and involved person, but the game just got more personal. I am now a student in a wheelchair.
This is a temporary condition, of course. I fell, breaking my ankle and spraining my wrist, the day before classes started. I am already healing, and may even be out and about, chair-free, by the time the semester’s first edition of The Word is published. I know that my perspective, therefore, is one of a person who is generally able-bodied. Nonetheless, I have gained an unusual (for here) perspective on the issue of access.
If I were a permanently wheelchair-bound student, I would not consider Earlham for more than a minute. My first visit would have been enough to convince me to apply elsewhere.
Yes, most of the campus is accessible, but only nominally. That is, you can get to many places, but it’s quite inconvenient, particularly when it rains. My first day in a wheelchair, it rained. Lots. I mean, the umbrella I had as I was being ferried to my classes really didn’t do all that much good.
And let’s see … I am on the 19-meal plan, which means I have breakfast in Saga. Great. My first class is in Runyan! But to get to it, I must exit Runyan Center and get wheeled to the back entrance by the circular driveway. This is because there are stairs between Saga and the Fine Arts department. Instead of budgeting two minutes to get from one place to the other, I need to remember to set aside 10.
Not to mention trying to check my mail. There is indeed a wheelchair entrance to the basement of Runyan Center. More than once I have found it locked. The ramp to the other basement entrance is, like many ramps on campus, at an incline of frightening degree-that is, I am afraid I will fall out of my chair and/or roll too fast and slam into the doors. And thank God that I am a music student, because if I had an applied art class upstairs in Runyan, I’d be out of luck.
Same with class in Tyler Hall. Every entrance involves stairs. I have been informed by various faculty members that if I had a class there, the class would be moved. But this would make majoring in social sciences a little problematic. I mean, there are few rooms on campus that can accommodate as many people as Tyler 100.
If I were a psych major taking Human Development or Social Relations, the class would have to be moved to either the Hancock Room or Dennis 110. If I were taking both in the same semester, it would probably mean displacing some science or music classes. And yes, we will eventually have a brand-spanking-new social sciences building, but it ain’t here yet. The Meetinghouse Library, a room where I’ve had several classes and countless organizational meetings, is completely inaccessible.
Speaking of social stuff, I am not able to visit most of my friends. I am fortunate to live in Bundy Hall, the only dorm with an elevator. I cannot even fathom trying to track down a friend who lives on the second, third, or fourth floor of another building (we won’t even mention most of the houses). But here’s the other deal-the only way to get to any floor in Bundy, even the first, is through the elevator. Dorm Staff and Security have been stressing this week about what would happen if Bundy were to have a fire alarm. On Sunday night we had two. Hop hop hop I went down the stairs.
Also: if I were a smoker, I would have no option for smokers’ housing-the first floor of each building is smoke-free.
Also: paths are sometimes not flat, but tilted.
Also: whoever designed the elevator call button in Stanley Hall obviously did not have a wheelchair in mind.
Also: I cannot use the bathrooms in Carpenter Hall.
But Earlham has done some stuff OK. There are lots of appropriate ramps by the admissions office, for example. And I am particularly enamored of the Bundy auto-flush toilets and the Runyan wheelchair button. Now, if only more of those existed. Doors are a general pain in my butt right now. Most of them are too heavy and rigged to shut when not held. Plus, many have these nasty lips that one must negotiate by tilting the chair so that the front wheels can just bypass them.
Yes, I am bitter. I know that Earlham does mostly comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that does not mean that we have the kind of access that would allow or encourage a student in a chair to apply and attend, so that in a truly diverse community, we would be able to hear the voices of those with physical disabilities. Right now we don’t hear many of those because, well, if you are not able-bodied, you can’t get to class.
-Beth Kelly is a senior Religion major.
In 1996, approximately six percent of the students enrolled in postsecondary educational institutions had disabilities
Unfortunately, research indicates that young adults with disabilities enrolled in postsecondary education have little understanding of accommodations or of effective ways to implement their civil rights (Carroll ; Johnson-Bown, 1996). In a study of college students with disabilities at fifteen colleges across eight states, Thompson (1993) found significant deficits in the knowledge of disability rights in a majority of the participating students. Other researchers have reported that many college students with disabilities need assistance in dealing with complex social interactions such as the ‘request and negotiate’ demands in the accommodation situation
Source: Journal of Rehabilitation , Jul-Sep2000, Vol. 66 Issue 3, p38, 6p Author(s): Palmer, Charles ; Roessler, Richard T.
A person with a disability is anyone who has a physical (e.g., quadriplegia) or mental (e.g., anxiety disorder) impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (e.g., learning), has a record of such an impairment (e.g., a record of having a specific learning disability), or is regarded as having such an impairment (e.g., a student who is denied admission to medical school because he is HIV positive; see also 34 C.ER. Section 104.3). With respect to postsecondary education, a qualified student with a disability is one who is able to meet a program’s admission, academic, and technical standards (i.e., all essential nonacademic admissions criteria) either with or without accommodation.
For a person to qualify as disabled, the disability must “substantially limit” a major life activity. Clearly, “substantial” connotes something more than trivial or minor, but federal courts have disagreed beyond that point. At least four options exist as evidenced by recent case law: “in comparison to most people in the general population”; “in comparison to the average person having comparable training, skills, and abilities”; “in comparison to the average unimpaired student”; and “the disparity between inherent capacity and performance.”
Source: Journal of Special Education , Winter2000, Vol. 33 Issue 4, p248, 10p, 1 chart Author(s): Thomas, Stephen B.

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