I am a college student, a senior, and I do my work for BraunAbility remotely. During the summer I do get to station myself in the corporate offices, but now, I write from the confines of my dorm room walls. A few years ago, before my job began, my computer gave out. My campus has a tech service department that will fix student computers for free. I packed my expensive baby in her bag and brought her to the doctor’s office, so to speak.
When I arrived, the gentleman who worked his magic and revived my computer was in a power chair. I didn’t really think anything of it, and thanked him for his great help.
The summer that came next was my first internship with BraunAbility, and my eyes were open to a world that was hidden from them behind the culture of an able-bodied man. I became aware of wheelchair ramp angles, elevators, mobility vehicles, power chairs, and so much more.
When I returned to campus, I would notice things left and right that I had never seen before. The wheelchair ramp at my church is too steep to get up without someone pushing the chair. My dorm had only stairs, so no students in wheelchairs could live on the third floor with me. The school had only recently built buttons to open doors for wheelchair users, and finally a dorm with an elevator for access across all floors.
Now, I cut a little slack to my little private institution. It was founded in 1897, a time long before wheelchairs were seen regularly. The average student body barely scrapes over 1,500 undergrad. These issues just aren’t a big deal in this world.
This is why we don’t have students in wheelchairs here. In most cases, we just can’t accommodate them well. It’s an invisible segregation that is changing far too slowly. The minority is all around us, is accepted and smiled at, yet is silently kept down on the first floor.
I saw the tech services worker again that year, and I knew something I didn’t the first time I saw him. I bet he notices all of these little things across campus. That man (who drives a BraunAbility van), exists in the same world as the rest of us, but he isn’t on equal ground.
We can do better than this. I understand that there is a large cost to implementing change across a campus, a building, an office complex, what have you, but this is a change that is needed. It’s something that we can petition for, ask about, push for daily. All it takes is to start noticing the little details like a too steep ramp or a lack of a proper door or bathroom. We just need to open our eyes. We can do better.
If you know a business owner who has gone above and beyond to make their location accessible to everyone, be sure you thank them. And if you come across a business that isn’t accessible, I hope you’ll have the courage to make some suggestions. With the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act behind us, and while some enormous changes have taken place since that time, we still have a long road ahead.