Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Redefining Disability Project~ Post #8

It's Tuesday again and time for a question from...
Is your work or school life affected by disability?

Since I no longer work, teach, or go to school, I'll have to post from an older disability story.

After my divorce, I decided to go back to college again. You know me, a forever student. I'd succeeded getting out of my wheelchair, walking with two canes attached to my arms, and was down to one cane used while walking. While I could climb stairs with my cane, I wasn't great at climbing stairs. I couldn't carry my books because of their weight, so I had a wheel luggage cart with my book bag strapped to it.

Knowing my limitations, I carefully chose classes that were downstairs or there was elevator access to the classes. Dragging the cart up and down stairs with me walking with a cane was down right dangerous. There was one building that did not have elevator access and had classes upstairs. So I made sure I had none of my classes there. This was before ADA came into effect so there was very little recourse.

I was excited to be in college again. Brain power was my equalizer over a disabled body. I always did pretty well grades wise in college, if the National Honor Society is any indication. I chose Study Skills, which was a technical credit class because I had been out of college for ten years. It was the third day of class and there was a note on the door saying the class had been moved to the gym clear across campus. With a sigh, I walked over to the gym only to find the class was upstairs.

This was the one building without elevator access on campus. I looked up at the stairs.Knowing I couldn't make it to the first landing of the dog legged shaped stairwell. I finally made my way back to the Student Union feeling old beyond my years, and frustration and anger building to the breaking point.

I went to my usual table and a couple of friends were sitting there. I slung my wheeled cart towards them and it hit the wall as I sat down. I began blubbering like an idiot, angry tears streaming, unchecked down my cheeks. "I quit! I just can't do it!" My friends rushed to my side trying to find out what happened. Eventually the story came out. One of my friends ran upstairs to get the head of Student Affairs while another one ran to the girls restroom for some tissue.

After talking to the Vice President of the college, he assured me that it would be straightened out. He allowed me to wash my face, called my adviser, and then took me to the President's office. He explained my predicament. My adviser explained how we had looked at each class' location before registering and how we allowed travel time between classes so I wouldn't be late. The President listened carefully and then asked me how to make it right.

My demands...
1. More notice that class locations before changing them especially with handicapped students attending.
2. That the class that was moved upstairs be moved downstairs so I might attend.

He, the President, thought about it for a moment and agreed. He also arranged for security in their golf carts to take me to class and take me to my next class. He noted that I wasn't the only student with disabilities attending classes. They also might have needs that weren't being met. He looked me square in the eyes and asked if I minded being his liaison between the campus and these students. After what I had been through, I readily agreed. I became the first disabilities liaison person for the college before ADA made concessions mandatory.

In the first meeting between the students and myself, I was told several easily fixable
concessions and one harder one. I went back to the President with these problems. Within a week all these problem were solved. Each quarter afterwards, new students came with issues. They were weighed and always granted.

The extra wheelchair ramps took some time to complete because as a state agency they had get approval for funding and put the job out for bids but they were built as were automatic doors. We had three students who were paraplegic. By the time ADA was ratified our campus needed very few accommodations to be met. We, the students, had identified and the college had addressed most of the issues.

Oh as a post note to this story...
The student who ran upstairs to get the Vice President of Student Affairs was to become my present day husband.


I love to hear from you! Agree, Disagree, Indifferent...no matter. Even if it's to say you were here.