Laura Olson, who hurt her back by slipping on ice, sat just inside her room trying to pull the door open and wheel back at the same time. Failing to open the door herself, she resorted to asking a suitemate for help.Olson is one of many Castleton State College students who found out that daily routines are hard — if not impossible — when temporarily handicapped.
Although President Dave Wolk and Dean of Administration Bill Allen stated that Castleton is one of the most handicap accessible campuses around, some students have found it difficult to accomplish simple tasks like getting food or going to class.
After breaking both sides of her ankle and being told she couldn’t put pressure on her foot, hockey player Jennifer Saitta withdrew from her classes because she was unable to get to her classes.
“It took me about half an hour to 45 minutes to get to class,” she said. “By the time I did, I was so uncomfortable that it was difficult to concentrate and get into class.”
Switching from a wheelchair to crutches, Saitta spent three months unable to walk.
For the most part, Saitta thought Castleton was easy to maneuver around except when it came to getting food. With all the snow on the ground, she was unable to go to Huden and sent her boyfriend to get food from Fireside, using her card.
Janet Perron, who was on crutches after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament and then again after surgery, agrees.
“I pretty much didn’t go to eat unless a friend was with me,” she said. “I’m sure if I asked for help I would have gotten it though.”
Perron said she believes handicap accessibility “is in much need of improvement.”
Perron has brought up the need for improvement repeatedly, including at the president’s dinner on April 11.
Her sister had planned on attending Castleton upon her high school graduation, but a car accident left her wheelchair bound. She did not attend college, but did visit Janet once and her wheelchair got stuck on a bump in the pavement.
Janet swears that Castleton “would not have been an option” for her sister if she had decided to attend college due to the difficulty of her getting around campus.
Wolk and Allen, however, stick to their belief that Castleton is one of the most handicap-friendly campuses around.
Over the summer, groups with handicap children hold camps at Castleton, including a group of children with multiple sclerosis.
“They use our campus mainly because of the accessibility,” Allen said.
Help is there, if you ask for it
Deb Choma, director of the Wellness Center, noted that there was a big difference between those who have a temporary handicap and those who have a long-term handicap. Those with long term handicaps “know how to get in and out of buildings,” having been taught. For those who have a short-term disability, she suggests having a friend help out because it will be more difficult.
Choma and Dennis Proulx, head of Residence Life, are willing to work with and make accommodations for students who need them if they just ask.
“It’s hard to figure out where priority lies until someone is here experiencing the campus,” Proulx said.
They have at times adjusted rooms by taking furniture out or temporarily moving someone to a room that is easier to access.
“All you have to do is let people know where the trouble spots are and we’ll make accommodations,” Wolk said.
Aiming towards easier access
Renovations to make Castleton more accessible to those who have handicaps started in 2002 when a wheelchair-bound student attended Castleton and “educated us about need for changes,” Wolk said.
The new buildings will all meet the American Disabilities Act (ADA), though Perron points out the new buildings don’t have the automatic buttons.
Proulx said that the doors are still in regulation according to width and the pressure needed to open the door.
Allen and Wolk discussed how the buttons had a delay on them, rendering them a security issue because someone could easily get in the building when passersby hit the button unnecessarily.
“If you don’t need to use the button, then I suggest you don’t use it,” Allen said.
The Jeffords Center’s new lecture hall will have a ramp alongside the walls so someone with a handicap will be able to get around the room. Even the newly renovated Fine Arts Center has adjustable seating to allow for someone with a handicap to sit in a row.
Perron, however, points out that the handicap seat is still on a step and people like her sister would not be able to utilize it.
The new dorms including Castleton Hall and the even newer three home-style dorms have a handicap bathroom that’s up to code.
Living in Castleton Hall allowed Saitta to be able to utilize the handicap showers, which she found helpful because she needed to take her rolling computer chair in the shower.
Understanding, but there’s a long way to go
Saitta said her professors understood her situation, but she advises students to tell their professors what is going on, which she didn’t initially do because of the medication she was on and the pain she was going through.
“It wasn’t their fault it didn’t work out,” she said, explaining that she was in emotional, as well as physical, pain, from not being able to walk or play hockey.
Perron and Olson agreed that their teachers were helpful with extensions and missing classes.
Olson was not able to go to chorus because she could not get down the steps of the FAC where her class was held. And Perron had to schedule several appointments for physical therapy and the surgery date during class.
Despite the understanding nature of teachers and administrators, though, Perron said the college simply isn’t fit for those with handicaps and bordered on discrimination because Castleton could not be one of their choices.
“Excluding these people doesn’t send the right message,” Olson said. “They should have an equal opportunity to come here and have the same experience that any of us who are able to walk freely have.