Coming to Arcadia in the fall of 2019, I knew it would be daunting as a disabled person. More specifically, I have cerebral palsy and osteogenesis imperfecta. Cerebral palsy occurs when the brain is abnormally developed or damaged and, in my case of spastic hemiplegia, it results in stiff muscles caused by increased muscle tone that makes moving around more difficult and painful than usual. I have poor balance, walk with a limp and a crutch, and the constant tightness of my muscles results in chronic pain. In the case of osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly called brittle bone disease, I break bones quite a bit.
With this in mind, and having done online school since seventh grade, my trepidation was completely warranted. I hadn’t been to a brick-and-mortar school in years, and when I was, my needs weren’t met. Elevators were either out of service or far from where I needed to be, rendering them useless. My teachers complained because I had to leave class early to avoid the bustling, narrow hallways. I missed out on exciting field trips and was, every day, reminded of my “otherness.” When I could do something for myself, I was revered for “overcoming” my disability, when really, it wasn’t my disability I was overcoming; it was the landscape built for everyone except me in mind, with no tools to ease my burden. Each day felt, and still feels, like a cruel and twisted obstacle course that I can never complete.
While campus will never be as easy for me to navigate as my able-bodied friends (Heinz Hall has no elevator access), Arcadia was certainly a better option over larger and inaccessible colleges. For one, the campus is small. I live at Oak Summit, and should I ever need anything from campus, it’s only a short walk or drive away. All the stores I could ever need are a five-minute drive up the road, and there’s a bus stop right outside of the campus and Oak Summit.
One particular part of Arcadia that makes my life so much easier on campus is Disability Support Services. Throughout my entire educational career, I’d never received support like I do at DSS. They’re just an email or appointment away (during a usual, pandemic-free semester), working to provide accommodations to make my school life much easier. Through them I’ve been able to access online textbooks, utilize handicap-accessible bathrooms, get extra time on tests, arrange accessible housing, and more. The stress of faculty not accommodating my needs like in elementary and middle school faded away as soon as I met with Kathryn Duffy from DSS for the first time.
I’ve also found no issue getting help from others on campus. Arcadia is such a small school, and it feels like a little community. Even if I don’t know everyone personally, I’ve seen lots of the student body while out and about and they’ve been nothing but friendly and helpful. Shortly before writing this post, I was struggling trying to get my bags inside. Two students immediately rushed to my aid while a third opened the door, and they helped me carry everything inside my apartment. While not everyone knows what kind of disability I have or who I am, the students have been so helpful to me.
Not every place is perfect, and I don’t expect it to be, not right away. A lot of the automatic door buttons on campus don’t work, and sliding my key card can be embarrassingly difficult. On bad days, the hilly campus can be a challenge to navigate. However, I’m hoping to change all these things and more through my participation in the Accessibility Committee, a group made up of students and faculty that work to address and resolve accessibility issues on campus. And you can make a difference, too, for yourself and others. Talk to Disability Support Services about your concerns. Show them that though the disabled population of Arcadia is small, it’s still just as important as the able-bodied population.