Perspectives and advice: campus accessibility

Perspectives+and+advice%3A+campus+accessibility

Mary McDonough

As the temperature continues to drop, there’s one thing
that will inevitably take total control: snow. While winter
can be enchanting in the beginning, for the 12 students on campus who deal with mobility issues, it becomes a battle against the elements.

Being one of the 12, I can tell you first-hand that snow and I are always in a full-on war. I’ve had mobility assistance equipment for my entire life and with every snowfall comes a series of issues which minorly inconvenienced other people throughout their day. However, to me and many others with mobility assistance, wet tile floors, snow banks at street crossings, iced sidewalks and unplowed walkways are hurdles that we have to climb over as discreetly as possible.

Falls happen. They’re a part of life. Like everyone, it’s embarrassing when you faceplant walking out of an elevator, but when there’s no way for you to get up on your own, the situation becomes very vulnerable. With that in mind, I have a few pointed suggestions to follow if you ever find yourself witnessing that situation. Know that any advice I give comes from my 21 years of built-up accessibility battles.

Unless there’s blood, don’t run to be the hero. There are already enough eyes around to see what happened, it doesn’t need to be any more dramatic. It makes the person who fell feel even more like a victim and not an independent individual.

Remain calm. I know you want to rush and fix the situation as fast as you can, but realize that this person is probably in pain, and it definitely isn’t the first time this has happened.

Ask them what they want you to do. Trust me, there is a plan. There is always a plan for this kind of thing. It is more comforting to know that anyone who is willing to help is also willing to listen. If there is only one takeaway, remember that this is a person, and for that matter, a person in a very vulnerable place where they don’t want to be.

In situations that are more day to day, you might find yourself feeling confident that you know exactly what to do, but the reality is, you’re probably missing something.
Holding doors open is fine, encouraged even if you see someone behind or in front of you that may need it. There’s no insult to anyone’s independence by being polite.

If you’re behind someone in the hallway, just go around. It is the most stressful thing in the world to have someone following right behind your footsteps. Often it makes it feel as if we are holding you up and we force ourselves to go faster when that is not the safest thing to do.

There are some times that your help will be politely declined. Don’t take offense. When people ask you if you need help in almost every move you make, there are times that we feel the need to prove our own independence. It has nothing to do with you, it’s just a pride thing.

When it comes to academic buildings on campus, there are very few trouble areas. But issues tend to pop up in older buildings, specifically McClintock and Whitman. In the case of Whitman, the building is one floor and causes no red flags to go up, that is, as long as you can make the drive during days where walkways are slippery. For McClintock, the distance causes no major issue, but it becomes a bit of a maze trying to find the ramp for the number of smaller classrooms that all have staircases to them. If you are in either of them and see someone who might be struggling, refer to the pointers I gave.

When I was in middle school, and just beginning to get my movement back, I tried to do laps around the school during P.E. Trying my best to
push myself and run, I was distracted and didn’t realize that a bench had been moved, obstructing a small part of my normal pathway. The leg was just barely sticking out. The front tire of my walker caught it and sent me forward, face first onto the tile floor. I had no idea that there was an older student nearby that happened to see the incident until I rolled over and saw them running to me. Suddenly, I was more panicked about what they might do, instead of trying to pull my thoughts together. Without a word, I was picked up by my shoulders and painfully put back on my feet. They had no idea that I was having a body-wide muscle spasm because they never asked. Sheepishly, I thanked them and rushed out of the way, where I could try and collect myself. There was no relief, only embarrassment, a rush of vulnerability and pain.

I ask you to remember these pointers, so that when the time comes you can provide mindful and compassionate assistance that leaves everyone with dignity.