I’m no stranger to the snow. Growing up in Michigan, I’ve dealt with snow both with and without assistive devices. However, my first step into a campus building this semester almost re-introduced me to the floor.
My dad was with me when I checked in on Jan. 14 – and I’m glad he was, because the threshold going into the Kellogg Center (KC) was solid ice. Granted, most of the campus was covered in ice and snow that day, with Michigan in the midst of its first major snowstorm of the year. Whether it was campus buildings, unsalted sidewalks or snowy roads, everyone was watching where they were walking – especially those with physical disabilities or limitations.
With sub-zero temperatures on check-in day, I was afraid to leave Whitehouse Hall for fear of slipping on the ice. Unfortunately, I had to brave the cold if I wanted to eat. Normally I wouldn’t have minded a walk outside to get dinner, but in this weather I absolutely did.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a choice.
To go from Whitehouse to Baldwin, you have to walk across a breezeway – an open, but covered area bridging the two buildings – and through a door that leads to Upper Baldwin. For most people, taking this path wouldn’t even merit a second thought.
The thing with accessibility, though, is that you don’t notice the problem until it affects you.
Once you go through the door, three steps block a disabled person’s path. This forces them instead to then go outside, down Whitehouse’s ramp, pass Baldwin Hall’s entrance and head towards Seaton Hall – where the singular ramp to the dining hall is located. Only then would they be able to enter the building, assuming the handicap buttons are functioning.
Unfortunately, this method can prove hazardous for disabled folks such as myself. Last year, after getting dinner with my friends at Baldwin, I stepped onto the ramp to find myself suddenly sliding away. I wish I was joking when I say the ramp was covered with solid ice – I felt I would be safer letting go of my walker and holding onto the railing to control my descent.
Not everything can be controlled though, much like the subzero temperatures we were warned about in an email from campus safety on Jan. 15. A warning about how quickly frostbite can happen should not be followed in the same email with “classes will resume as scheduled.”
Albion College has no written procedures for temperature concerns in the weather policy. The only thing regarding closing campus written in the archaic 2017 Inclement Weather Policy is that the college will “usually” close if we receive a blizzard warning. The problem with this is there is nothing to be enforced. I know that may sound silly, but it could be minus 30 outside and if there is no blizzard warning, students and faculty could be expected to carry on as normal. With school districts typically closing once wind chills reach minus 25, Albion College not having anything set in stone is horrendous. There is nothing to hold them accountable for students’ safety, unless of course there is a blizzard warning.
From a disabled view, the problem with that is that there aren’t alternative means to get to classes. When I emailed campus safety and the facilities department about my concerns about getting around campus in the weather, the best solution offered to me was a ride in one of the John Deere Gators that can occasionally be found on campus. The problem for me lies in the Gators’ height. For legal reasons, staff members aren’t allowed to pick me up, and I don’t have the range of motion to get into it without help.
I called my mom nearly crying – I felt I was being forced to choose between going to class or my safety. If I went to classes, I could get seriously injured due to the amount of ice on the ground. Or, I could stay in my room and take an “absent” in all of my classes on the first academic day of the semester, likely missing crucial information in the process.
Nobody should have to pick between their safety and education.
Thankfully, the people around me were my saving grace. One of my good friends walked with me to my morning class. I didn’t have to ask twice, even though she didn’t have a class in the building, or for another four hours.
But the problems don’t end there —I need only look across the street to find new frustrations: The work on the boiler system repair by the KC. It’s an inconvenience that most students and faculty can avoid by walking through the snow to get past it, if they choose.
I, on the other hand, have to walk down to the corner of Whitehouse and cross the street, go around or through the KC and navigate the ice on the quad to get to my classes in Olin Hall three days a week while this work is being done. Please keep in mind that this doesn’t include the times I have to go to the KC for meetings or food, which typically require me to take the same path.
With winter starting to get settled, I am anything but. I’m practically holding my breath anytime I go outside, hoping I can get to my destination without mishaps. I can’t wait for the ice to melt and get temperatures above single digits.
While Albion College doesn’t have the power to change the weather, its staff has the ability to salt the sidewalks and roads. This is a simple task that can benefit all students, staff and faculty — not just the disabled ones. If that is impossible for any reason, there should be a system developed and put in place so students with disabilities can still attend classes in person without feeling like they are risking their safety to do so.
When the path is salted, the salt is either over-abundant or in short supply it seems. My experiences going around campus have left my walker with either a pound of salt or none at all on it. The same can be said for the snow – the random piles of it in the middle of the sidewalk left over from the shoveling could disappear with one extra pass of a shovel.
The reality of living with a disability during winter is that nothing is ever going to be perfect. At least not in today’s society. Ice, snow and cold weather will always cause extra problems. However, there’s no reason to let things within human control pile up and complicate the lives of disabled folk.
All I hope to see from this administration is more attention being given to the small things as this chilly season progresses – the small things can make the biggest differences, especially in the life of a disabled person.