Josiah Van Wingerden
Just when we thought that spring and sunshine were around the corner at the end of January, February came and brought with it more snowy and icy conditions. Needless to say, navigating the treacherous weather in my wheelchair has been an absolute nightmare.
Before you think that this is merely a follow up piece about the level of accessibility on campus like the one I wrote last year on campus accessibility, let me assure you, it is not. However, in many ways, this piece serves as a companion to that one, because accessibility is vital for me to thrive.
It has been frustrating to try and get around campus and I know I am not the only one with accessibility concerns. A number of students share my concern and have supported me well through the drastic weather.
Fortunately, I was on a Jan Term trip for January, so I missed the sub-zero-degree-temperature, snowpocalypse. I’m counting my blessings every day. However, February has been far from a cake wheel. For the few weeks I have been back on campus it has not been easy to get around due to the snow and ice. It is hard for me to not feel neglected in those circumstances.
All I endeavor to say in this piece is that my navigation concerns with all the snow and ice should not be brushed aside and should be properly addressed. Let’s try to keep the measures that do exist on campus for students with disabilities accessible.
After all, most of us, if not all, received an email saying that we should “be mindful of icy walking and driving conditions on and around campus,” and students should wear shoes with “extra traction.”
Unfortunately, I do not have the option for heavy duty optimum wheels for the snow or ice, nor do I have superhuman strength to propel myself through the large drift blockades. The conditions were so bad that classes were canceled, a rare occurrence for Whitworth. In fact, according to a tweet from Beck Taylor, it is the first time classes have been canceled for winter snow and ice in his presidency.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what Whitworth administration and staff can do about the snow and ice that would help make campus the most accessible for each student.
The Facilities Services department actually has a comprehensive plan on its website on how it intends to combat the snow and ice, complete with a map of the routes that are cleared first.
Additionally, after a long series of misunderstandings and miscommunication, I am in contact with the university’s accommodations office and discussing the most effective way for me to get to classes.
There have been moments when I could not enter my own residence hall due to a snow blockade in front of the door. That is unacceptable. Not to mention, it is unsafe for me in case of emergencies.
Two ways to potentially combat the weather are for Facility Services crew to arrive to campus earlier to clear the roads. Or, the department could have multiple crews that clear the roads all day, in order to ensure the safety of all students.
Another method of snow and ice removal worthy of consideration is to have a paid student crew. That way, it would not be such a heavy burden on the Facility Services department, but also ensure that the roads are consistently safe when the snow and ice hits hard.
If Whitworth wants to be a more diverse campus that invites students from a variety of demographics—including level of ability—it could start by showing students like me that it cares for our safety.
Safety is not the only important consideration that I implore Whitworth to contemplate: accessibility measures have to stay accessible.
If very little is done to address the snow and ice conditions, it will affect our experience here at Whitworth, which is why something more must be done to address the situation presented by the weather. The university cannot afford to ignore it.
Regarding the 2021 Vision plan, goal number four would be addressed. The goal discusses the university’s desire to increase student diversity—not just by race, ethnicity, gender, or geographic area, but also by ability, according to President Beck Taylor.
Goal number eight states that the university will look to utilize facility services and other campus resources in new and effective ways. Let’s start by making campus a more inviting place for all students of every stage of ability.
After all, if Whitworth continues to brainstorm and consider solutions that could effectively keep campus accessible to all students, then the institution may be well on its way toward achieving goals.
Contact Josiah Van Wingerden at