Handicapping Ourselves

Winter and early spring in Vermont are hardly welcoming times of the year for people to be moving around on campus. Feet of muck-ice, slush, dirty water puddles, layers of sand and salt from trucks, snow banks rising so high you can barely see across the parking lot to pull out and, in March, mud so deep you can’t pull out of the parking lot at all.As nasty looking and uninviting as the campus may look this time of year, for someone who is handicapped, especially visiting the school for the first time in hopes of maybe going here, it looks particularly so.

As much as people have tried, and in many ways succeeded, in making this campus a friendly, welcoming place for people with handicaps, there are still things around campus that need to change.

Terrain has to be one of the most problematic things on campus. During the day, the snow melts, covering the sidewalks and sides of the road with water that turns into ice later in the evening. It’s hard enough to walk on with two feet, but with crutches the ice is more than just a nuisance, it becomes a hazard. Some sidewalks (like the one behind Wheeler hall) are coming apart, becoming more like small obstacle courses than the smooth footpaths they were put there to be. In a wheelchair, the feeling becomes, as my cousin describes it, “so bumpy and tiring that when I get to the end I want to go across campus and loop around instead of going back.”

Handicap parking is also an issue. In the winter, painted cues on the pavement showing where the handicap spots are become hidden, with some spots on campus (like the new lot next to Castleton Hall) devoid of any other sign. Some spots, like the one behind Wheeler, are the same size as regular spots with a spot to park on either side, making it impossible for someone using a ramp to get it to the ground so they can get out of their vehicle.

Accessibility to buildings is another area that needs the most work. Few buildings have handicap-accessible doorways (with buttons) and even those that do are faulty. The handicap doors to Glenbrook gymnasium have, on occasion, been locked, which is against the law. The button on Castleton Hall has been broken for weeks and the new buildings don’t even have buttons for accessibility.

The argument may be brought up that these buildings have no handicapped residents living in them but what if they want to visit? Part of a successful and fulfilling college experience is social interaction and the ability to do things on your own. If someone in a wheelchair is allowed easy access to certain buildings but struggles with access to others, is isn’t only frustrating, it’s insulting. Anyone on campus should be able to go wherever they want in order to see friends, professors, attend classes and go about their lives. Something as simple as being able to open a door shouldn’t even have to be thought about. Yes, friends could go visit someone in a handicap accessible building but the fact that a decision like that even has to be made is sad.

The whole point of college, besides academics, is to begin your independence. My guess is that we may have lost some potentially bright and gifted students over the all-too-easily-fixed problem of accessibility. It has frustrated even people without handicaps, myself included. This isn’t an attempt to solve any problems but a starting point to get people in the Castleton community to think about these things. It might not be that we don’t need these things because there are very few handicapped people on campus but rather there are very few handicapped people on campus because there are plenty of other campuses that give them a much more welcoming environment.

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