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Starting the discussion about accessibility on Wooster’s campus

Foster Cheng

Recently, I gave a tour to a prospective student and her family. The student’s grandmother came along. Because the grandmother was in a wheelchair, I had to adjust my regular tour route to avoid stairs, something I’m not used to doing because I have the privilege of living in a world and on a campus where everyone is assumed to be able-bodied.

More importantly, the student’s grandmother was not able to see every stop on the tour. Due to the lack of wheelchair accessibility in many of our buildings, I had to leave the prospective student’s father and grandmother outside with another tour guide while I showed the student around the building where we stopped. Though the student didn’t make a huge deal about the lack of accessibility when I apologized to her, it still had a huge impact on the tour. This impact was especially obvious from the perspective of the grandmother, who wasn’t able to see any of the dorm rooms or labs, which we normally show on tour. This made me realize from a firsthand point of view the necessity of accessibility and how often it is unavailable on our campus.

Although accessibility is not a completely new topic among Wooster students, it is an underrepresented one. Our campus puts an impressive amount of effort toward being welcoming and accepting of students with varying races, gender identities and expressions and sexual orientations. I am constantly hearing conversations about how we can be more open in our conversations and make our school a more comfortable place for students who are in the minority. This is an incredibly important thing for students to see happening around them; it shows that their peers actually care about the experiences that they are having, whether it’s at a party, in class or walking down Beall. Movements like “I, Too, Am the College of Wooster,” which uses Facebook as an avenue for expressing the voices of Black students on campus, are powerful and effective ways to start conversations like this. However, I rarely hear discussions about ways we want to create a comfortable campus climate for our students with disabilities.

For those students who consider themselves activists: this issue cannot be ignored. While I am aware that conversations about accessibility happen on campus, I am also aware that these conversations are infrequent. We need to be asking why there are entire residence halls, such as Babcock, which house important resources for many students but are completely wheelchair inaccessible. We need to make sure that our administration knows that just because these buildings are old enough to be exempt from laws requiring buildings to be wheelchair accessible, that doesn’t make it okay that they aren’t.

For those who don’t consider themselves activists: you should still care. I’m sure that even if you don’t consider yourself an LGBTQIA+ activist, you still support things like marriage equality and legal protections against discrimination because it’s the logical thing to do. Supporting changes that will make the lives of students and visitors with disabilities easier should be a similar no-brainer. By simply voicing your opinion, you can help make a difference.

I’m asking everyone to start being aware of this issue. When you’re walking to class, think about what changes you would have to make to your route if you couldn’t take the stairs. Would it be significantly out of your way? Most importantly, talk to other students, professors, even coworkers about it. The quickest way to start creating change is to have open and honest conversations. Don’t leave the problem for someone else to try and fix; anyone can be the person to start these discussions.

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