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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Campus not accessible for all

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: Opinions

Brandeis is an amazing school, founded on the principles of allowing any student to attend, regardless of race or religion. Yet if our school’s principles highlight this inclusiveness, why is it so impossible to navigate? Why is our school so inaccessible to the handicapped?

About a month ago I had an unfortunate skiing accident, tearing my ACL and rendering me largely unable to walk. I will be on crutches for at least the remainder of the semester. Now, I have been on crutches on this campus before, and it is not fun. Yet, last time I did not need crutches for quite so long. This time around I am finding that it is incredibly hard to get anywhere.

This campus has so many hills that it is extremely difficult to get up some of them when actually able-bodied. If you are disabled, it is infinitely closer to an impossibility. Attempting to crutch your way uphill feels a bit like walking through a hurricane; I spend the whole climb fighting the gravity that wants to pull me backwards. Another dreaded obstacle that many encounter daily are the Rabb steps. No one likes climbing the Rabb steps. Somewhere in the middle you lose your breath and, in the winter months especially, it feels a bit like scaling Everest. Fortunately, I have not had to climb the steps since my injury. I sometimes take the long way around and take the elevator down in Mandel, but it is still a little further than I would like to hobble around.

Fortunately, there is a decent solution to getting to class. Brandeis does have a dedicated Handicap BranVan that will take students to and from classes who have injuries that prevent them from walking. It is a much-needed and much-appreciated system, though not always reliable.

Initially, I had no way of knowing how to even get myself signed up for the Handicap Van. I scoured the Escort Services website, as well as the Brandeis website in general. I Googled and browsed and relentlessly searched for some mention of this disability van that I knew existed, but could find no information on it besides from some word of mouth. Finally, a friend told me who to contact to get myself signed up. After that, it was fairly simple. But this information really needs to be more public. How can students be expected to utilize a service that doesn’t publicly explain how to use it?

I have been using the Handicap Van services for about a month now and have only had one instance of a driver not showing to pick me up. Although that shouldn’t happen at all, I suppose this is at least a somewhat decent track record.

What is more concerning about our campus’ inaccessibility is our residence halls. I live on the third floor of a building without an elevator. I suppose no permanently handicapped students would be given housing in any of these dorms, but clearly, accidents happen. I did not enter Brandeis with a permanent injury, and therefore was not given a handicap room; but every room should be handicap accessible, no matter who resides in it. My CA did offer me a room on a lower floor, and it was something I considered. But as a person who loves where I live, I wasn’t really open to the idea of moving with a couple months left it in the semester. Honestly, I do not think I would have even been capable of moving all of my things while injured. My question is this: Why don’t all of our residence halls have elevators? How is this utter inaccessibility tolerated? Why should a person on crutches be hopping up and down stairs?

Besides the stairs in residence halls, there are steps everywhere that cannot be avoided. Do you want to eat in Sherman? There are stairs to descend. Do you want to enter the SCC from lower campus? There are a few steps to get there. Even to get into the health center, the place injured people flock to, there are several unavoidable steps. Whenever I see an elevator in a building now, it is such a relief knowing I will not have to climb any stairs. It should not have to feel like relief—it should be normal and expected.

There are two videos on Youtube that every student on this campus should have seen by now: “Sh*t Brandeis Students Don’t Say, Parts 1 and 2.” While these videos do a great job of satirizing what life is like on campus to an absurd degree, they do tell a sad truth. In one video a student is depicted talking on the phone to his grandmother: “Nana, don’t be silly. Of course this campus is wheelchair accessible.” If this campus’ handicap inaccessibility is so apparent that it can be satirically mocked, then clearly, we have got some serious work to do. Brandeis, please, let us make this campus accessible to everyone who wants to be here.