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Put Yourself in My Chair: Students advocate for disability awareness

Tanvi Sood

Staff Writer

A group of students independent of organizations, put together an event to raise campus awareness about people with disabilities. “Put Yourself in My Chair” was a wheelchair obstacle course organized at Lowry Circle on April 17th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event grabbed the attention of students, faculty and staff as they passed by Lowry center.

Kanika Issar ’15 created the event after she spent the summer in Latvia volunteering with Apeirons, a European organization for raising disability awareness. While in Latvia, she helped the organization put together a wheelchair obstacle course at a music festival. “I came back to campus and saw everything in a different light, so I began thinking about what I could do to make people more aware,” Issar says.

As part of her on-campus job as a college tour guide with the Admissions Center, Issar recounts instances of visiting families being unable to access buildings, or having to take a tedious route to get up to Lowry Dining Hall. Inspired, Issar started mapping out disability access points on campus. She suddenly realized that certain buildings had impractical floor plans for people with disabilities.

“Babcock has restrooms for the disabled on the second and third floors, [but] the building has no provision for these people to get up there.”

Issar, the primary director of this initiative, found four other students that were interested in the project. Andrea Roganovic ’14, Susmit Tripathi ’15, Sreyan Chowdhury ’14 and myself came together with Issar as part of fulfilling Dr. Charles Kammer’s social action project requirement for the Religious Studies class, “Ethics in a Social Perspective.”

The event’s organizer hopes to raise student and faculty awareness and come together to note the access points on campus. “The point was to make people literally put themselves in someone else’s shoes by putting them into the wheelchair for just one minute,” said Issar. The obstacle course was comprised of a small wooden ramp that participants had to cross before signing a poster with their reaction.

Roganovic said “It was strange to feel so stuck.” This was a shared sentiment as participants, prior to jumping into the wheelchair, laughed at how seamless the obstacle course would be, realizing only afterward, how hard it was to maneuver and balance on the wheelchair.

“It started off like a game,” said Tripathi. “But the obstacle course did a good job of showing us how frustrating and inaccessible campus could be.”

Faculty and staff members came together with students to raise awareness for people with disabilities. Over 80 people, including President Cornwell and his wife, Peg signed the poster.

“Initiatives like this would promote equality,” said Chowdhury. “No one in society should be marginalized, and handicapped people should face less inconveniences than they do already.”

Issar and her team are confident that they will come together again at the start of the next academic year to drive the point home to the College community. Without revealing the specifics of their agenda, Issar did say a brochure with a campus map of accessibility points and a video could be in the making to raise awareness in the future. The event coordinators hope that the participants remember how they felt in the chair for just one minute.

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