Disabled students treated differently on campus

Oct. 7, 2013

Eleanor Skelton
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Befriend someone in a wheelchair. You’ll remember the experience.

Standing front row at a Lindsey Stirling concert with a friend when the crowd parts for her motorized chair might be awesome, but watching her struggle down a narrow hallway only to not be able to fit her chair in a bathroom stall is painful.

While the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation ranks Denver fourth in the nation of the top 20 friendliest cities for those in motorized chairs, Colorado Springs falls behind in providing accommodations to the disabled, often ranking low in the foundation’s national assessments.

The geography of the city and the campus is inhibitive, but other technology – such as doors powered by motion sensors instead of buttons – could be implemented, as other metro areas have.

The city bus system, which is what many disabled people use for daily transportation, has dropped routes and hours due to city budget cuts in the past several years, forcing some disabled students to move to another apartment complex on a bus route to commute to campus.

Although some routes have expanded hours again this past spring, Metro stops and routes are still limited. Once on campus, not every shuttle has a wheelchair lift.

Not only that, not all of the drivers are trained to operate the lifts. If students are trying to get to University Hall from the University Center, that can be a long wait.

I spent a day commuting to campus on the city bus and going around in a manual wheelchair to gauge the difficulty of the hills between the University Center and Dwire Hall and the incline leading to the Engineering Building.

The automatic door buttons outside the University Center plaza and inside the Gallogly Center, both broken earlier this semester, force the wheelchair user to manually open the door and shove their footrests inside the crack in the attempt to get through.

But brute force might not be an option for people with cerebral palsy or other conditions that limit muscular strength.

Although much rhetoric is tossed around saying we don’t treat those different from us as inhuman or subhuman, I had a different experience.

Rolling down sidewalks and between tables at the Club Fair Sept.4, I noticed many students glance my way and then avert their gaze, as if afraid of catching my disease or possibly out of paranoia of staring at me.

Often in public, people with physical disabilities are treated as perpetual children, not allowed to become adults like any other 20-something in college. Yet the rest of us are one accident or disease away from losing the use of our senses.

Never assume you are somehow above people whose journey in life – both triumphs and scars – might be more physically apparent than our own.