Aristotle, elevators and disability advocacy

By Josiah VanWingerden Before I transferred to Whitworth last fall, the first thing I considered was the accessibility of the campus for students with disabilities. I have cerebral palsy and in a wheelchair, so it was important for me to know that I could get around campus. Because I was a late applicant, I was in a unique situation: I did not have time to visit campus before the school year began. Nevertheless, I made several phone calls to the admissions and facilities offices to coordinate with them on the accessible areas of campus and get a picture of what it looked like.

When I was met with a resounding, “Yes, our campus is handicap accessible!” from various people over the phone, it was truly one of many deciding factors for me choosing this university.

When I arrived to campus for an interesting Traditiation experience, during which I saw my dormitory’s leadership team adapt around me to accommodate my physical needs, I could not help but feel that the university could do more for students like me.

During the first day of classes, I had several in Weyerhaeuser, where the handicap button to activate the automatic doors did not work. I recognize that sometimes technology is difficult to work with, so I brought it to the attention of the facilities office hoping that it would be fixed. It was not until the end of fall semester that I stopped having issues with that door. Additionally, Lindaman Center did not have handicap access until I arrived. There is something wrong with that.

Before I am misunderstood, however, I want to make my message in this article crystal clear: this is not an article to complain about Whitworth. The university has been willing to work with my needs and I am thankful for that. Rather, my intention is to bring Whitworth’s attention to a need on campus that needs to be addressed: disability advocacy.

No such place currently exists on campus that specifically represents and  advocates for students with physical disabilities and that needs to change. There are no events right now that bring physical disabilities to students or faculty's attention. If Whitworth’s message is one that promotes, “Diversity, equity and inclusion” yet it fails to include a certain demographic under that representation umbrella, then it might as well add an ellipsis and insert “for some” to the end of it.

Consequently, students like me are pushed out of agendas and have no voice to bring about change. That is why I am writing this article and why it is so important to me. There needs to be a place where students with disabilities feel represented. The same can be said for students with learning disabilities as well. No place exists for them either.

One might say that it has not been a need in the past for the university because there are not a lot of students here with physical disabilities here anyway. To that I say that now there is a need.  Students like me create it. Let us not confuse negligence with ignorance. Even so, ignorance should never be an excuse.

Whitworth should make a few changes to meet needs of students with disabilities. Possibly by installing elevators into more dorms. I know that because some of the dorms are older buildings, that this is costly and challenging. However, there are only two dorms on campus with elevators, Oliver and Duvall. Students like me are actively cut off from participating in events or activities hosted by those seven other communities.

That became apparent to me when I attended “Milk & Cookies” in Mac. It took five guys to haul me up the flight of stairs so that I could be a part of the tradition. I am not asking for elevators to be put in every dorm, but then again, why shouldn’t I be? I am just as much of a student here as any other, and yet I do not have equal opportunity to participate. That’s a shame.

This year, almost every candidate running for ASWU this year proposed cuts to the student-funded budget. Instead, what if those funds were repurposed into funding for an elevator? It may not end up being enough, but it may be enough to start a place of representation for students with disabilities.

Aristotle once observed “The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.”  I have had several conversations with students about how they never noticed things like the cracks in the sidewalks before they met me. Education to raise awareness of this issue is key to change.

Even if it does not accomplish either of those things right away, both students and faculty would become aware of the need and I hope work together to bring about meaningful change. Moreover, if Whitworth does take action to address the needs that I have mentioned, it would show students with physical and/or learning disabilities that our university cares.