College can be overwhelming. It presents a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainty. Between finding friends, balancing work and classes, and being involved in extracurricular activities, college presents the average student with many challenges.
Now, imagine you are a college student with a disability, like me. Suddenly, you are not just faced with the day-to-day challenges of college, but also the challenges that come from having a physical disability.
I was born three months premature with cerebral palsy. Because of this diagnosis, I have faced many challenges – including the switch to a college environment.
All things considered, my diagnosis is a mild form. I can still walk, whereas others with this diagnosis may have to use a wheelchair.
Cerebral palsy is a physical disability in which the brain is damaged in some way during development, therefore impairing the ability of the brain to send messages to certain muscle groups. These muscle groups can be all four limbs, one limb, or two.
My diagnosis is spastic diplegia, or cerebral palsy that affects symmetrical body parts
(in my case, both my legs).
So, how does a diagnosis affect a student entering college like myself?
The main challenge I have noticed within my first week on campus is the shortcomings of accessibility for those with disabilities.
Seattle Pacific University does its best to supply appropriate accommodations for those who need them. The school has wheelchair lifts, rooms set aside for those with disabilities, and elevators in some of the dorms.
However, at the end of the day, SPU has some clear shortcomings.
The two oldest dorms, Hill Hall and Moyer Hall, do not have elevators. This severely limits the accessibility for those who are in wheelchairs and live on different floors.
Admittedly, SPU is at the mercy of the city regarding its layout. Nevertheless, the school’s many hills and stairs make navigating campus a challenge.
Although SPU tries to accommodate wheelchair users when possible by having ramps near stairs, there are not enough of them. The only one I have noticed is in Martin Square, near Gwinn Commons.
This presents a challenge for those with disabilities. As one such individual, I have experienced the struggle of making my way up the many stairs from the bottom of Tiffany Loop up to Hill Hall. I could not even imagine having to make my way all the way up to Ashton!
Those who use wheelchairs are unable to take such a direct route, however. If they need to make it from Tiffany Loop up to Hill, or even Ashton, they cannot conveniently cut through campus and go up the stairs.
Instead, they will likely end up heading out of Tiffany Loop, up the hill past Eaton Hall and Watson Hall, and up 6th Avenue West.
If one had to get up to Ashton, that would be another hill up 6th Avenue West. Hills themselves are not foreign to those using wheelchairs, but they do present an issue considering their slope.
The main issue arises when one considers how much extra time wheelchair users must set aside in their day just so they can make it to and from their dorms and classes.
With winter approaching, the concern of black ice on sidewalks arises. Getting up a hill for anyone can become a potentially dangerous task, but especially for those with disabilities and in wheelchairs.
In order to accommodate more students with disabilities, the campus could attempt to pave ramps heading up the main stairs from Tiffany Loop or Martin Square.
Another option is adding elevators to some of the main buildings where classrooms are located (for example, Demaray Hall).
Now, I know it is not practical to have the campus entirely reconfigured to include ramps at every single staircase, or make sure every building has an elevator, but I do believe that the student body should be made aware of the issues faced by their fellow students.
Awareness of this problem is a necessity, if for no other reason than to potentially bring about change for the campus – or, at least, bring about understanding and acceptance for those of us with disabilities, who may more often than not be struggling to navigate an unknown environment.