About the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship
Every year, the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is awarded to two students who use wheelchairs and attend college full time. One of the requirements for receiving the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is to provide a response to our essay question.
This semester's scholarship recipient is Erika Heatherly of Missippi State University; her response to the essay question is printed below.
Fall 2011 Essay Question:
What area of your school do you think would benefit from improved accessibility and how would you improve it? What area of your school do you feel has excellent accessibility and why?
I never realized how challenging being disabled was until I was in a car accident, which resulted in a spinal cord injury. I never really took the time to look at public places, especially schools, to see what was accessible for someone in a wheelchair. However, I soon learned I faced many challenges each day, when I began college after my accident.
I am a student at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. After many long days my first semester, I realized the importance of universities being accessible. I immediately registered with the Office of Disabilities on campus and they have been a great help in helping me meet the many challenges of daily college life. However, there have been challenges which I face on a daily basis, some of which include parking, ramps, and elevators. One of the most difficult things I've came in contact with is parking. Mississippi State is a very large campus; therefore it requires me to be able to park close to my classes.
I have found that even with handicap parking it is still a good distance into the buildings. I become frustrated on a daily basis, while trying to locate a parking place; I have spent hours driving around campus waiting to find a parking place. I believe if you are truly disabled you should be able to park in any handicap parking place anywhere, whether it be on a university campus or at a Wal-Mart parking lot. The staff and faculty have gated parking at every building on campus, and inside these lots are also handicap parking places, but students are not allowed to park in these lots. On the days when I am riding around looking for a parking place, I have noticed these spaces in the gated areas are never used. I believe if you are truly disabled, these spaces should not be restricted to staff or faculty. It's hard enough to get to class in a wheelchair, but when you encounter parking problems or have to park across campus it becomes even more difficult.
I never understood the importance of a ramp or the challenge of getting into buildings, but I have found that the majority of ramps are found in the most random places to buildings. When you see a ramp, you think it is easy to push up or down, but it takes everything in your power just to push up the ramps to get into a building. The football stadium was an extremely big disappointment to me, due to the ramps. I was extremely excited about going to a football game, but that excitement soon ended when I realized I could not get into the student section with my friends. I was told I would have to sit in the handicapped area of the stadium, which was extremely disappointing. The facility has no ramps in the student section, but I purchased student tickets for seating in that area. However, I did go to one football game and go into the stadium, but without the help of two close friends, I would not have been able to get into the handicap seating area of the stadium. The ramp was so steep I could not push up the ramp without help, not only getting up the ramp was an issue but coming down the ramp was worse. I had a friend in front of me holding my chair, and a friend behind me to keep me from going too fast downhill, it is not safe. I feel like everyone should be treated equal regardless of disability, and a large stadium should not have limited access to functions at a large stadium.
My major is Kinesiology, and my department is located in a building on campus, which has no elevator. I have been blessed to have good professors (so far) that have done everything they could possibly do to accommodate my needs, but I canÕt easily go see my advisor or any of my professors without calling or emailing and asking for a meeting at another location. I have had several classes and will have other classes that are held upstairs.
So far, they have moved the classes to a new location, but it makes me feel like I am constantly bothering department security to make other arrangements for me. I'm sure I'm not the only student that needs an elevator, but it is 2011 and this is an issue at a university in a public building. I believe this is an issue that should have been fixed a very long time ago. So far, regardless of the many issues and challenges I have faced, I have had a great experience at MSU. I do believe there are several things my campus could do to improve the campus to make it more accessible. I believe parking should be addressed at every university and more time should be spent constructing ramps and entrances to public buildings. I would love to see automatic doors at entrances of all the buildings on campus this would be so helpful. I think a lot of the problem with the issues I face every day is the fact that the decision makers have never faced any of these challenges or had someone in their family with a physical disability. It would be easy to let these challenges get me down, but instead I have tried to push for improvements, so maybe if they don't happen while I'm a student at MSU, maybe someone else will reap the benefits.