James Ross Kiefer
In his State of the Campus address, Chancellor Gilliam had this to say, “It’s time for us now to take some giant steps toward making our great university the best it can possibly be.”
So where do students with disabilities fit into these “giant steps?” Something that UNCG needs to address is it’s doing a fairly poor job in accommodating students with physical limitations.
Take College Avenue for example: Most students wouldn’t notice this, but if you’re heading from say the Music Building to Curry, College Ave. has a fairly gentle incline all the way to Spring Garden. Now if you’re walking this isn’t really an issue, but if you’re in a classic wheelchair where you have to physically propel yourself across campus, working against gravity in every push, that’s pretty exhausting.
In response to this some might say “why not a buy a power scooter?”
A brand new electric wheelchair falls into the $700 to $2000 range depending on model and features, and one in poor condition goes for around $250 or more. While that might be a worthwhile investment for someone suffering from a lifelong condition, that’s a hefty sum of money for someone who’s only suffering from a one to six month injury. Costs like that definitely come into play when you’re an independent student worrying about things like rent, groceries and textbooks.
Inside most buildings on campus isn’t much better. Students who rely on elevators to change floors can’t get from the basement to the first floor of McIver without going around the entire building. Many of the handicap buttons that open doors around campus don’t even work, the one in the Schiffman Music Library has been under construction prior to the start of the semester and still isn’t fully operational. The fact that a student in a wheelchair can’t even enter the main office of the College of Visual and Performing Arts without someone physically holding the door open for them doesn’t exactly come across as an inviting gesture.
“Why don’t you just grab a ride from a friend?”
I’d rather not remind myself that physically getting across campus is a challenge by having to rely on my friends to do it for me.
Maybe UNCG should be focusing more on how to make campus better for students who are currently enrolled, instead of focusing on attracting future students.
The UNCG Office of Accessibility Resources and Services (OARS) already offers accommodations for students that need alternative testing, tutoring and academic assistance, which they should and those are important to students in need. But none of those programs actually assist students in physically getting to class.
For disabled students who live off campus, there are services like GTA SCAT that provide personalized pickup and transportation, but that only acts as a vessel to campus, not classes.
Appalachian State, NC State and UNC all offer personalized transportations services for disabled students to and from class. Yes this is a service that these schools aren’t required to provide, but it’s a statement of dedication to students of all abilities. Compare that to UNCG whose best use of golf carts is handing out parking tickets. It’s a better solution then leveling the landscape of campus into a flat, wheelchair friendly surface, and more helpful from what I was told at OARS, which was “Learn the bus schedule.”
When I fractured my fibula in early July, I was told that my recovery time would be a matter of six to eight weeks. I figured I could deal with a month of laying in bed, watching Netflix and being free of all chores since I couldn’t stand on my own. Doctors were right, in about a month most of my pain from the eight new screws holding my bone in place had subsided, but I didn’t realize that still meant another two months of physical therapy and gradual improvement. What’s worse is I definitely didn’t realize how my own university was going to be an obstacle.
On the first day of the semester alone I failed to go two classes because I didn’t have the stamina to get my wheelchair halfway down Spring Garden. My class schedule takes me from the Weatherspoon to the Music Building, which takes me only about 20 minutes because there’s a slight decline. If I choose to go back it can take about 45 minutes. Most of the pathways that are handicap friendly are either very out of the way, or incredibly taxing for someone that has to physically push themselves to get through. Of course this is only if I make it campus, being that if I can’t get a ride to school I’m stuck at home for the day. If there are heavy rains, forget it.
The most unsettling part of going from an able-bodied person to someone with a physical disability is realizing that those signs of blue people in wheelchairs suddenly apply to you. What no one tells you about being physically disabled is that there’s one thought constantly etched into the back of your mind: “Are people looking at me?” Perhaps if UNCG could help me get to class, I wouldn’t feel like such a spectacle.
If UNCG really wants to be “the best it can possibly be,” it needs to focus on aiding students who work harder just to get to class, rather than the ones who take it for granted.