About the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship
Every year, the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is awarded to two full time students who are also wheelchair users. One of the requirements for receiving the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is to provide a response to our essay question.
2010 Essay Questions
This semester we asked participants to take a look at their current or prospective school and comment on the accessibility of the campus and how they would improve upon it. Each applicant was asked to choose from the following:
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?
Spring 2010 Winning Essay
My name is Matthew Stafford. I'm 19 years old and I'm currently a sophomore at Cleveland State University. I'm majoring in Journalism and I have a 3.44 GPA. I have had cerebral palsy all my life and I can't walk very well or very far and walking in crowded places is not safe for me. As such, I use a wheelchair to get around the campus. I can use either a manual or electric wheelchair depending on the season. In the spring and summer, I like to use a manual wheelchair to get more exercise. In the fall and winter, I like using an electric wheelchair so my hands don't get frostbite from touching cold wheels. Overall, my experience at CSU has been good. There is one major problem though. CSU has a big accessibility issue that I believe needs to be addressed as soon as humanly possible: a total and inexplicable lack of a wheelchair ramp to the main building. This is a huge problem if you're in a wheelchair be it manual or electric.
If you can walk and you live on campus like I do, all you have to do is cross two streets, go up the stairs and you're in the building. However, if you're in a wheelchair, things are much more complicated. You have two choices, you can take the long way around through the inter link through the science building or you can go through the parking garage underground. Both of these choices can be dangerous and the fact that our disabilities force other disabled people and myself to make this choice should not be tolerated in the 21st century.. If you take the long route through the science building in an electric wheelchair, you drain a substantial amount of power from the battery. While there is enough time in class to charge your chair, you can't always rely on being positioned near an outlet where you can see the professor or the screen where the professor projects the notes. In some cases, such as in science labs, you might not be able to plug in at all Even if you can find an outlet, you can only charge for as long as the class is in session (typically about 65 minutes). Even then, you still might want to go around the campus for an organization meeting, library research, or simply to meet friends. After you finish your errands and start going home to your dorm, you might find that your battery is in the red zone. In several instances, I barely got back to my dorm room in time to charge it. Had I not, I would've been stranded where I was.
Imagine what would've happened if someone in a motorized chair got stranded in the street. What would happen if someone got stranded in Cleveland humidity or lake effect snowstorm? This is a huge safety issue for me and the other wheelchair bound students at CSU. The shorter route, through the parking garage has its own dangers. There's been construction ever since I got there and occasionally, I have had to maneuver through equipment and vehicles parked on the sidewalk. The bigger issues on this route are the numerous potholes and cracks on the sidewalk Last year; I went this way and hit a pothole. To my estimation, my wheelchair and I went flying somewhere around three feet and I was left with no way to get up. Mercifully, a group of ladies driving by saw everything and helped me out. I only suffered a few scrapes and my wheelchair was undamaged. The pothole got fixed but in Cleveland, for every pothole or crack that gets filled, two new ones are going to show up soon. At the time my wheelchair was manual but an electrical chair would've likely sustained more damage and possibly injured me further since I was wearing my seatbelt at the time the manual one flipped on top of me.
I know other people on campus in wheelchairs and many of them can't sustain injury and keep going like I can because they have other medical conditions. What if the same thing happened to them and they got hurt? What if there was no one there to help them like those ladies were for me? Both routes also depend on the elevators working. The only way to get to the inner link to the main building is to use the elevators. However, sometimes the elevators are broken or shut down for maintenance. On several occasions this semester, I had to backtrack to the opposite route from the one I was taking. This took a toll on my battery. One time, the elevators were down and I couldn't get to class at all. I strive for academic excellence as do many of my peers.
How can we succeed at the college level if we can't show up for class because of elevators that can go down at any time? More importantly, why should our ability to attend classes hinge on fickle elevators when being able to access the front door like every other student would solve the problem? These questions, as well as the ones above spurred me on a hunt for an answer as to why there was no ramp. The answer to my question was infuriating. I questioned the Office of Disability Services and they told me that when the main building was undergoing renovations several years before I came, there were plans for the ramp to the front entrance. The architect told them a ramp would not be an issue. There was money for it. There was (and is) room for it. However, for some unexplained reason, the ramp got taken out of the plans at the last minute. My solution to the problem would be to get a ramp built to the main building. It wouldn't be too hard to do. The place where the ramp was supposed to be is currently a long stair case. I've done some research and a ramp would fit there just as well.
Campus life wouldn't be disrupted as it wouldn't require anything in the way of massive overhaul. A ramp would be safer for everyone. Being able to access the front door would mean that people in power wheelchairs wouldn't have to worry about the battery being drained by having to take long roundabout routes to get to where they need to go. We wouldn't have to worry about construction or hazardous potholes. Everyone would be able to get to where they needed to go without having to worry that the elevators might be down that day. In summation, a ramp to the front door of the main building would be a drastic improvement in accessibility. It would be safer for the physically disabled than our current options. It would be much easier for everyone to be able to use the front door. More to the point, a ramp would make the University much more inviting to students who want to learn and be the best they can be but just happen to be disabled.
About the Author
Matt Stafford is a sophomore at Cleveland State University and is majoring in Journalism.