Wheelchair brings writer different insights

Editor’s note: As part of an experiment to find out how accessible the University of La Verne campus is to students in wheelchairs, staff writer Merritt Beckett spent one day in a wheelchair, dealing first-hand with the experiences of wheelchair-bound students.

by Merritt Beckett
Staff Writer

I would imagine that few people can relate to what it is like to spend half an hour getting from the Student Center to the AAIC Building. When making this trip by foot, it is a short walk. But making this same trip by wheelchair requires a detour around Dailey Theatre on a walkway that is both up and down hill, slanted, cracked and dangerous. This is particularly hard in a non-motorized chair like the one I used.

This is just one of the countless inconveniences that a student in a wheelchair will face at this university.

It is impossible to understand the small things that create obstacles for a student in a wheelchair until you have actually tried to operate one.

Aside from the realization that I take many things for granted, I found that, in general, this campus has overlooked the simple things that could make life easier for students in wheelchairs. These are things that I had never thought about prior to my day in the wheelchair. These are the things that made my day exhausting.

For example, many of the bathrooms that are intended for handicapped students are not big enough for the chair to fit inside the stall and for the door to be closed. Getting into most of these stalls requires a series of tedious baby turns of the chair, until you are finally inside and most likely not able to get out without asking for help.

There are places, like the AAIC Building, where there is not enough room at the end of a wheelchair access ramp to maneuver a chair and open a door.

Many schools have installed automatic doors to make getting in and out of buildings easier for students in wheelchairs. I found that I would often just wait for someone else to happen by and ask them if they might open the door for me. The school really should aim to make sure that students in wheelchairs are able to gain access to all buildings and facilities without asking for help.

Additionally, a student in a wheelchair who wishes to live on campus must live in the Oaks, as Stu-Han and Brandt are not equipped to handle the needs of a person in a wheelchair. The bathrooms and showers are not handicapped-accessible, and there are no elevators. The Oaks is significantly farther from the main campus than the other two residence halls, making the trip from a dorm room to the main campus significantly more challenging for people in wheelchairs than it would be if they only had to travel from Stu-Han or Brandt.

Going into this day in a wheelchair, I knew I would discover many situations on campus that could be improved. I never imagined though, that it would be the little things like narrow doorways, cracks in the sidewalk and using a bathroom that would be the most difficult. I think the University of La Verne has a duty and an obligation to make this campus meet the needs of all the students, and not just those that can walk into an office and complain.

By the end of my day in a wheelchair, I had experienced an array of emotions that ranged from self pity for the soreness of my arms and hands to relief and joy for the ability to walk away from the chair. It was a wonderful feeling to leave the chair tucked neatly in the trunk of my car and run up the stairs from my garage to the house and tell my mom about my day.

It was as I watched the Barbara Walters interview with Christopher Reeves that I realized many people do not have the option to leave a wheelchair behind them. In that moment, sadness was my first reaction, but perhaps the desire to understand the special needs of people in wheelchairs and the effort to change our surroundings to accommodate those needs is more important than my sadness.

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