WOW. What a crummy person I am. I am finishing my second year here at JMU and not once did the thought of me being privileged as an able bodied student cross my mind. Well, until now.
In 2015, ODS reported that roughly 3% of the students at JMU are registered as having a disability, either visible or invisible. However, Matt Trybuss, the former Assistant Director of JMU’s Office of Disability Services, states that the real number was closer to 10%. This could be because of the stigma placed around being disabled, but this number has most likely grown since then.
I have to repeat myself because WOW. That number seems small, but that’s over 2,000 students. After having an intense conversation with some friends about how much of a struggle it is for some students just to get around campus, I can’t walk into a building without thinking “I wonder how someone in a wheel chair would get around all these stairs” or walk down the quad without getting mad at all the quad bricks that have been stolen. That silly quad brick tradition has gotten so bad that Tim Miller, the new Vice President of Student Affairs, took it upon himself to send out a mass email saying something along the lines of, “If you must take a quad brick, I left a stack outside Miller.” I mean come on, people! We have blind students and students in wheel chairs who have to pull a Mission Impossible every time they travel from Wilson to Harrison. It should not be this hard to get to class.
There are so many things that I never used to think about, like having braille on all the signs in buildings in case of a fire or emergency, having automatic doors for all the building entrances, or there being disabled parking close to all the classrooms. And I don’t blame you if you haven’t either, because I’ve never been in a situation that forced me to think about the struggle. I don’t mean to sound ignorant. I am truly saddened by the fact that I was never exposed to this kind of thinking and was not considerate enough to think of these issues, but I am educating myself now and I think it’s important for you guys reading to do the same.
These students are here for the same reason I am, to get an education. And being able to get to class safely should be a right, not a luxury.
5 thoughts on “A Right Not A Luxury”
“We have blind students and students in wheel chairs who have to pull a Mission Impossible every time they travel from Wilson to Harrison. It should not be this hard to get to class.” – Well said!
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I think something that’s also important to note is that a lot of students have disabilities but often aren’t able to get the ODS registration because it’s very elitist; in that if you don’t have the funding or the resources to get all the documents signed that need to be signed; while not having accommodations during the semester while this is happening is very frustrating. In fact, I have a disability but because I don’t have the funding, it’s seen as illegitimate and unrecognized and ergo my professor doesn’t have to abide by it. And it ends up being more expensive in the end. That being said, we should also take into account not just getting to class but being able to withstand it in general; because a mental disability isn’t read the same as a physical, especially without documentation. This post is really important because it talks about the ways we’re unable to fathom the lives of others without first recognizing our privilege and doing our research first. Thanks for starting this conversation, truly. Much appreciated.
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Thanks for bringing that up. I completely agree that mental disabilities open up a whole new conversation. I wish I had more space to dive deeper into those details, but these articles are very short and I thought it best to direct attention to one specific point. I do plan to take this a step further and make a documentary talking about these issues on JMU’s campus and the way things are run in the Office of Disability Services. I think your points are very well put and will be sure to include them in the film after I’ve done more research on the subject. Thanks for reading!
This post really resonates with me, I also forget to “check my privilege” and fail to realize how hard it must be to live with physical and mental disabilities at an institution that will require its members to essentially “prove” that they are at a disadvantage. Great post!
Similarly, I never gave much thought to accessibility on campus until I developed a disability & needed to file for certain accommodations myself. And it was still difficult to communicate to ODS and some professors that the only “accommodation” I really needed was to just… not have to show up on campus some days without having my grade docked. Obviously I was privileged to even get to a point where I had documentation because I can afford ongoing therapy. I know people make the argument that there have to be hoops to jump through or take people will take advantage of the system, but as someone who has experienced a disability’s impact on my schoolwork, I would personally rather have a few individuals take advantage of the system than have students with disabilities left without the accommodations they need. Needs to be a larger conversation!