I came to Albion because it was one of the most accessible campuses I toured back in 2022. Now that I’m almost halfway through my sophomore year, that seems like a joke.
When I moved in as a first-year, the experience felt like hell. It was already scorching hot outside, and all I wanted to do was take a shower; the problem was my roommate and I couldn’t get the door open. From what I recall, the door would stick every time it shut – to the point that neither of us could open it. We talked to a Community Assistant and came to the solution of a doorstop until maintenance could come and fix everything. This felt like an invasion of privacy in a room with a girl I had never spoken to before move-in, as well as being a temporary solution.
How hard is it to fix a sticky door?
This was just the beginning, for there was more horror in store for me as a disabled Albion College student. I could barely fit my walker through the bathroom door as is – it is still an issue – and once I was through, I found that facilities had never adjusted the shower head to an angle I could use.
I went the first three days on campus without having the ability to take a shower. By the time I finally could after they fixed it, the power went out.
Oh, the infamous power outages of 2022. Did you know that the elevators also go out when the power does? That lovely fact means that, unless a disabled student has a friend willing to bring them their meals or calls Baldwin, they have no access to food. I was lucky enough to have a friend, and now Managing Editor, Bonnie Lord, who did that for me – we ate dinner in the front lounge of Whitehouse Hall together.
Luckily, we didn’t have a power outage again this year, but guess what:
The elevators stop working even when the power is still on.
On Oct. 18 Lord had to carry me up to the fourth floor of the Kellogg Center because the elevator wasn’t working. How did I find this out? A paper taped to the front of the door said something to the effect of “elevator broken.”
This isn’t the first time this has happened; I doubt it will be the last.
My concerns don’t stop at the elevators not working. I think everyone has had their own experiences that feel like life or death in those incredibly old elevators in the residence halls, in the library and the one in Goodrich Chapel. But, if I didn’t get on one with friends, I wouldn’t be able to say the same. The buttons in those old, rickety elevators are completely out of reach.
The example I tend to give people is that the buttons are at about chest level, or higher, on a woman of average height. This is about five feet, four inches for an American woman, according to Healthline. This matters because currently, I can’t do laundry on campus
I live on the first floor of Whitehouse Hall, and the laundry is in the basement. So, unless I ask someone to help me with the elevator every time I do laundry, I have no access to it. Beyond that, the washing machines in Whitehouse are only top load. Now consider what that would mean for someone who is not average height or in a wheelchair, for instance.
My friend, Haileystar Castaneda, Houston first-year, uses a wheelchair and struggles with the lack of accessibility. One specific problem for her is the accessibility of Goodrich Chapel, which she has to use at least twice a week for choir.
“If I go through the top, I have to push myself up the ramp, through like the main entrance, and push myself through the very thick carpet where the pews are and then go down the elevator, which is super skinny – it’s like the same size as the wheelchair. There’s no space on either side,” Castaneda said.
Castaneda said it is even difficult to just get inside the building through the main entrance. There’s a large crack in the ramp that makes it incredibly dangerous for disabled users. Castaneda specifically said that a motorized wheel will speed up if it feels resistance – such as going up a hill – so that the user does not go backward. However, the problem with that is it could flip you over if a wheel gets stuck, as it nearly did for her upon her first time going into the chapel for choir.
I want to be clear, this is not just me and other disabled students ranting.
On many occasions, I have voiced my concerns to the Director of Accessibility Services at Albion College, Elizabeth Rudolph.
Rudolph said that a campus must be 60% accessible to be considered an accessible campus. Now, 60% seems a little on the low side to me. Law is law though, even when we bring up crucial legislation on disabilities. If we’re only holding ourselves to the standard of 60%, that means we’re allowing 40% of our campus to be inaccessible to disabled students.
There is no way that just 60% should be considered an “accessible” campus.
“Some things technically even ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) says we don’t have to do anything,” Rudolph said. “There are things that need to be done, there are still problems on campus – a lot of problems.”
To me, one of the biggest problems is also one of the most mundane. It’s one of those things that people always tell me they never thought about until they met me.
That problem? Sidewalks.
Albion prides itself on its gorgeous campus, yet it has some of the worst sidewalks I have ever seen. That’s saying something, considering I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park and many other inaccessible parts of this country. This past summer my dad and I took a day to photograph some of the spots where a physically disabled student could injure themselves – something I experienced last year. We were on campus for over five hours that day and easily took over 40 pictures.
The ones I didn’t expect to take were of the campus’s true pride and joy: The Sprankle-Sprandel Football Stadium.
In 2011, the board of trustees approved 1.1 million dollars to go towards upgrading the field and Sprankle-Sprandel Stadium. Some of this money was expected to go towards upgrading the student section, which is completely inaccessible to anyone who is physically disabled. Every entrance to the bleachers has stairs, unless you go and sit on the side of the visiting team – something no Brit would dare do in good conscience.
Don’t worry though; there is a small, approximately 12-foot section in the front of the bleachers that is meant for handicapped people and has no labeling whatsoever. When I tried to go to the Homecoming game last year this space was full of people with camp chairs.
Luckily, to get there I don’t have to worry about any doors.
The handicap buttons that automatically open doors on this campus are iffy at best. They go out at random points; some buildings don’t even have them. Some buildings have them in some places, but not in others.
It’s exhausting to try and keep track of what is working and what isn’t. Just a few weeks ago the Honors Observatory finally got a handicapped button and, of course, it didn’t work until a week after it was installed. I am one of at least two physically disabled students who go in and out of that building for class three times a week and the button wasn’t installed until the week before midterms. While I understand that some things take time, it is appalling to me that it took nearly eight weeks for facilities to place a handicap button on a building when it was clearly needed – not just something that needed to be updated.
Honestly, I would have left Albion after my first semester here – if not for the people. This campus has failed its physically disabled students repeatedly and it infuriates me. Not only do I get mad for myself, but for anyone who comes here thinking that this is an accessible campus. I want our tour guides and accessibility staff to be able to tell incoming disabled students “our campus is a good option for you because we are actually accessible.”
Right now, I can’t say that and feel like I believe it. Knowing how many problems I’ve faced, I can’t in good conscience send kids through the exact same things I had to deal with. I want this school to be better, if not in the time I am here, then for the people that come after me.
As Rudolph said, “I keep trying to tell campus ‘be prepared.’”
In the experiences I’ve had in my year and a half at Albion, I can easily say that it’s not.