Guest columnist Andrew Ridout sits in his rented wheelchair outside Jester Center. Ridout spent a week navigating campus with the wheelchair, seeing how accommodating the University is for disabled students.
My hands were blistered, and my arms felt like they were about to fall off. I began to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. It was only the first day of my week in a wheelchair. I was trying to experience what a disabled student might endure when trying to navigate the UT campus. I felt like giving up a hundred times, but I knew I had to hang in there, so I pushed on through the pain. You might wonder why I would subject myself to this. My intentions were twofold: to understand better what my handicapped classmates were dealing with on a day-to-day basis, and to see where the University might be able to improve on its accommodations for them.
I was nervous, to say the least, when I sat down in my rented wheelchair for the first time. Within a few minutes, I headed past Robert Lee Moore Hall on Dean Keeton to the intersection of 24th Street and Speedway. Sliding through the crosswalk, hoping the cars could see me, my hands started to throb and my back tightened as my mindset began to change very quickly. I stopped wondering about what would be the fastest way to get to my next class and started strategizing about the only way to get there. Which path had the fewest stairs, the easiest access to an elevator, even the smoothest sidewalk? Every obstacle seemed to be amplified, even the tiniest pothole on the pavement.
Other students rushed past me, oblivious to my hardship. I felt invisible and yet also awkwardly conspicuous. No one offered to help that first day. They all had their own struggles. Just grab the wheels and push, my mind seemed to say, and eventually I got to my biology lab, only 15 minutes late. I hurt from head to toe, and it was the first time I actually remember feeling relieved about getting to class.
Over the next few days, I spoke to several students here on campus about their own experiences.
“When I used the community bathrooms for the first time at my new dorm, Kinsolving, they didn’t have grab rails to hold onto,” said Shalom Hernandez, a business freshman who uses a wheelchair to get to most of her classes. “The bathrooms didn’t have anything to hold on to. There was a stool to sit on in the shower, but it was broken. So the first few days of being here were difficult, to say the least. I went directly to the [Services for Students with Disabilities] office, and they immediately moved me to a newer, more accommodating dormitory.”
Next, I spoke to a University alum, Max Ritzer. He broke both of his feet and a leg in a car accident. I asked Ritzer how he found his experience on campus after his injuries.
“I only needed to use the wheelchair for a couple of months,” Ritzer said. “I thought that I could have just powered through it and that there would be some kinds of services to help me get to class. It was hard, to nearly impossible. Stressful to the point where it would have adversely affected my academic performance and my mood, even taking a minimal load of classes.”
Ritzer also cited dorm issues.
“I wanted to live in Carothers [dorm]; however, it was not wheelchair accessible after hours,” Ritzer said. “Each evening, someone would have had to have come down and let me in from the front desk. I tried to talk to some of the staff there, but they did not seem like they had encountered this type of situation before.”
Able bodied people hiring a chair for a week to go to school? so when he gets to class he stands up shakes it out and says “wow poor things I have no idea how they do it day in day out”
On the surface this is great this is amazing but why has it taken a abelist to get a headline when everyday on every college ,highschool and elementary and middle school the attitude is “but why should we change everything for just a few?”
last year in texas a two story school , a highschool was busted when their fire evacuation plan was revealed it went like this” turn off the elevators during a fire push the wheelchair using students to the top of the stairs and leave them and hope they survive till the firemen come”???
We have the ADA there is no grandfathering in the ADA it doesn’t matter how old a school is it must be accessible.
so with a federal law already in place tens of thousands of students who are ACTUALLY disabled appealing to their schools for better access every day and being ignored on a grand scale What do we promote a healthy non disabled student laying at being disabled? it is to disability what white face is to being black !