Through the struggles of a friend this past week, I have become increasingly aware of all the extra things a person with a disability goes through on a daily basis.
Though our campus provides excellent accommodations through the Disabilities Support Services office, there are bigger issues at hand. Yes, there are many buildings on campus with ramps and handicap accessible entrances, but what about the older structures that only have stairs? College requires independence, but what happens when someone can’t get everywhere on their own?
This is not a new issue, but an ever-changing one that will always need more support. Looking at the history of civil rights, people with disabilities have been neglected in the past. The Rehabilitation Act was the first step to true equality for people with disabilities. This Act has a specific section (Section 504) that prohibits the discrimination of those with disabilities in federal programs. The Rehabilitation Act was not created until 1973, which means that while minorities and women were starting to get the civil rights they deserved, people with disabilities were pushed to the side. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Americans With Disability Act passed.
The population of those who are affected by disability support is an ever-changing number and type of need. As students, it can be easy to take for granted being able to walk or ride our bikes from class to class. Very rarely does our campus stop to recognize that people on crutches, in wheelchairs or motorized wheelchairs have a much harder time getting around campus than everyone else, and this affects many aspects of their life.
A good friend of mine, Molly Matzke, has been in a wheelchair for the past few weeks. What she has to say about handicap accessibility on campus brings to light some of the basic issues that others are facing.
"Valpo is trying to become more disability friendly, but there is still a long way to go,” she said.
After breaking both legs, Matzke had to move out of her dorm. Because her building lacked the appropriate facilities to help her get around, she was unable to come in and out of the building by herself. Outside of the dorm room, things are not much better.
“Because of the hills, horrible sidewalk cracks, potholes and door buttons that don't work, I now must rely on other people,” she said. “I am no longer independent, and that's the hardest part."
In today’s society, our thinking is not much different from the perspective we had in the 1960s and ‘70s. Rather than addressing issues directly, we push them out of our minds. We often forget about how easy it is to walk or run. Even making plans with family or friends is difficult because it might take someone in a wheelchair or with crutches longer to get somewhere. We are lucky enough to be a part of a university community, but because of this privilege we need to be making bigger strides toward change.
Opening the door is one of the easiest things you can do, but it isn’t only in our actions that we can make a difference. We can urge our community here on campus and in the area nearby to create a more accessible environment, one that everyone can participate in. The Chapel, on one hand, has added a handicap accessible bathroom and a ramp to the Helge Center. Our university should make it their priority to update all older buildings in this way. Buildings like Mueller that don’t have any sort of ramps or elevators need to be updated. We live in a society that could make a huge impact if we all became a little more aware of our surroundings and worked together to make life easier for everyone around us.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch. Contact Jen Kvasnicka at email@example.com.