Accessibility is acceptance, awareness

Diego Benites, Crier Staff

If you are an avid patron of the Saint Anselm Crier, then you may have come across an article published last issue titled: “Students, faculty troubled by accessibility problems”. As someone who is disabled, I found it comforting to know that members of our college community are concerned with the issues regarding accessibility on campus and want to raise awareness. However, after close examination, I believe the article missed some fundamental points regarding this issue.

The article centers the issue of accessibility in regards to mobility. As someone who is legally blind, I will say that navigating campus can be difficult at times. However, I acknowledge that a perfect place where I won’t encounter any mobility challenges does not exist. I will always have problems like not seeing a step or curb and accidently tripping. Or even when a person says hi to me in passing, and I can’t recognize their face. These are things that I have to live with that others don’t. Although it can be frustrating and annoying at times, I’ve come to terms with it.

Given the age and topography of our campus, there is only so much the college can do to make campus physically accessible. Does this mean that the college can ignore the mobility concerns on campus? Absolutely not, and I don’t think they have been ignoring these concerns. As a member of SGA and the DEI Action Plan Committee, I can say, without hesitation, that the college takes this issue seriously and has taken active steps to address it. Although I can’t go into detail about the upcoming plans to make campus more accessible, I will say that what I’ve heard is more than encouraging.

Just in the past year, the college has created an Associate Director of Disability Services position. I spoke with Dr. Hannah Davidson, the new associate director, about this issue. One thing that we both found troubling with the article is the section encouraging people to take the stairs instead of the elevator and not “abuse what we have in place.” Although these kinds of statements may seem innocent, they can have serious negative impacts. These kinds of statements can discourage people with disabilities to use aids that could assist them.

I occasionally use a white cane as a mobility aid. Yes, I am able to see things, but I’m still legally blind. I have a visual impairment known as Cortical Visual Impairment. In layman’s terms, my brain has difficulty processing visual information. This makes it challenging when I have to navigate a novel environment. Although I know using a cane could help, I refrain myself from doing so because of the reactions I’ve received from others. I’ve had people judge me because they assumed I was faking my blindness. I’ve also had people assume that my quality of life was less because I was using a cane. I’m concerned that statements like “don’t abuse what we have in place” will only encourage people to draw more assumptions and judge others for using assistive aids like an elevator or cane.

Although mobility is part of the conversation, Dr. Davidson reminded me that “accessibility is more than mobility.” I have to fully agree with her. We can become more accessible by being more accepting. The best way to find out how to make our campus more accepting of all disabilities (i.e. physical, neurological, psychological, etc.) is by listening. We can, and should, plan events that educate people about disabilities to foster a culture of acceptance and belonging.

I encourage anyone who has concerns or ideas of making our campus more accessible to reach out to the many resources on campus. You can reach out to Res Life and Physical Plant regarding mobility concerns. If you want to voice your concerns to make collective change for the student body, then reach out to the Student Government Association. Health services are also a wonderful resource. Finally, Dr. Davidson is a great person and resource to talk to about this topic, and I would personally recommend contacting her if you have any concerns.