We’ve all been there: driving through a packed parking lot when you spot an empty space tucked away. Patting yourself on the back, you pull forward only to discover it is exclusively handicap parking. It wasn’t until this summer that I experienced handicap parking first-hand as a good thing. An intriguing mishap in July left me with two broken legs and a wheelchair. The importance of handicap parking first dawned on me after attempting to roll up the interminable slope that is the Walmart parking lot. Transportation is a major issue without four fully functioning limbs.
My transportation has since upgraded to a scooter, but stairs are still outside the realm of feasibility. Thus, with the return to school, I begin my personal Quest for the Holy Elevator. As it turns out, the aforementioned elevator is nearly impossible to locate on campus. Historic buildings are great, but they could do with a few upgrades. Air conditioning and functional elevators come to mind.
I have yet to find a building without an elevator, but it was a pretty close call in Culbertson. Upon inquiring how I might make my way up to the Study Abroad office, I was informed that the cargo elevator would be my only option. Picture the old-fashioned elevators where an elevator operator pulls open the gate for the brave elevator riders. Now take away the elevator operator and add ominous clanking and crashing for the next three floors.
Each building presents its own challenges. The SUB has three elevators as well as a floor lift but not one of those elevators provides access to every floor. As a result, one has to criss-cross the building to access multiple elevators in a breathless attempt to make it to the bookstore before class. While lack of appropriate handicap access led to interesting adventures, such as the discovery of the mildly terrifying fourth floor of the SUB, the ideal alternative would be more convenient access.
The physical dilemmas associated with handicapped people are exacerbated by the feeling of powerlessness. One has to trust that the people who designed the building took into account the needs of all who would require access. When the layout of campus prevents students from arriving to class on time, that trust has been violated. The university has an obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to all. The failure to provide for the physically disadvantaged is not only irresponsible but insulting. At the very least, the university should ensure that they are not hindering the academic progress of students. Despite receiving millions in federal and state funds annually, MSU apparently continues to ignore the accessibility issue. As the government mandates equal access for the physically handicapped, it seems feasible that at least some of that money could go to renovating the buildings to provide necessary access points. However, this has yet to be properly addressed as this year’s budget once again fails to prioritize the equality of its students.
Physical handicaps are some of the most difficult circumstances to empathize with. It’s hard to appreciate the value of walking until it is no longer an option. The guilty pleasure of riding the elevator transforms into the agonizingly slow ascent to yet another floor that has hallways too narrow to turn in. The seams in the sidewalk become jarring speed bumps. Popping wheelies in a wheelchair is fun when one has the option of standing up and walking away.
While the buildings on campus could use some work before they can be deemed “handicap-friendly”, the students have already received that commendation. Countless students have held the door for me, helped carry my books and accommodated my injury in an effort to improve the handicap experience. Every time someone asks what happened like I’m a normal human rather than a physical abnormality is a victory. My professors have been patient with my lengthy commutes between classes and my classmates provide comedic entertainment throughout the process. It seems the only entity in the equation that has been derelict in its duties is the university itself. The university has failed on a moral and federally mandated level to provide for the students, thereby turning the goodwill of the students into a consolation prize for its neglect.
I am incredibly fortunate that my handicap lasts only for a few months. I can only imagine the daily struggles of those who have lived with their handicap for their whole lives. The things they don’t have access to: mountain peaks, hiking trails, the fourth floor of Gaines. It’s time the university makes sure that getting an education never falls into that category.