It’s true you don’t know what you have until you lose it. For me, this fact became all too real over spring break when I had surgery on my hip. After tearing my labrum (Google it) my freshmen year and months of doctors telling me “it’s minor” or “it will pass,” I visited a hip specialist last summer who found the cause of the problem in seconds.
While surgery wasn’t required for me, it was necessary because as a healthy 19-year-old, the level of physical activity I could do with the injury made me feel elderly.
The only unfortunate thing about the situation was I would need to do it in the middle of spring semester so I could be fully healed for a semester abroad in the fall.
My week at home was rough, but it became abundantly clear once I arrived back on campus just how much walking I really had to do. I couldn’t bear weight on my leg for an entire week on campus.
While the second week on campus was easier (I began putting more weight on my leg), it still felt like no help at all when walking from Rolvaag to Regents. I used to do that walk in three minutes; now, it took me almost ten.
My poor mother volunteered to drive me back and forth from Edina for those two weeks, not just because of the lack of services to get physically disabled students across the Quad to class, but because my own dorm didn’t have access.
I’m on the fourth floor of Thorson, and there is no elevator. Even if there was, just to get into the building requires climbing stairs.
I think it’s well past time St. Olaf reevaluates the added burden they place on temporarily and permanently physically disabled students.
I knew St. Olaf had an accessibility problem before I had the surgery, but it was hard to really understand the implications of it until I suddenly lost the ability to use one of my legs.
I want to be clear that while I am extremely frustrated with the lack of accessibility in residence life and the walking commute to classes on campus, I have also received wonderful support from the few resources on campus.
The Academic Support Center was able to give me temporary accommodations and my professors have given me a lot of leniency these past few weeks.
When I moved back to campus, Public Safety helped me get a medical parking permit so I could park outside my dorm and drive to class.
The fact of the matter, though, is that these few positive assistances don’t make up for the fundamentally flawed way the campus is structured.
I know I’m not the only student that gets injured unexpectedly and has walking impairments; I see students on crutches all the time.
This physical disability has impacted every part of my life on campus, from not being able to live in my own room to not being able to get my own food and carry my caf tray to the table.
My mom went to Health Services to ask if I could use their wheelchair to get me to a class that required me to crutch across the Quad, sweating and exhausted, and they refused.
This is unacceptable – all staff and faculty at St. Olaf should be as accommodating as possible given the lack of existing accessibility on the campus.
St. Olaf needs to start by making every dorm on campus handicap accessible. Not just one or a few, but every single one. There is really no excuse for all of them not to be, especially given that Minnesota has laws requiring buildings to be accessible (Americans with Disabilities Act). I should not have to sacrifice my living situation for a temporary physical impairment. Every dorm needs to have an elevator, at the very least.
More changes that can be made to make an even further impact could include offering food services to those who are not able to carry their caf trays/navigate through the craziness of Stav, having a ride service that will take students who are unable to walk long distances between their dorms and class (this could include free wheel chairs for temporary rental), offering motorized scooters for rental for those who have temporary injuries that render them unable to walk and offering more handicap parking close to buildings (Rolvaag’s closest handicap parking is the Buntrock loading dock; this is still a long walk to my English class).
I realize how fortunate I am to only have this physical impairment for four to five weeks. Whether to accomodate short-term or permanent disabilities, something needs to be done.
For the sake of every student, faculty, staff, or visitor on campus, I urge St. Olaf to seriously reevaluate their ableist campus and make life easier for those of us who struggle to get from one building to the next.
Megan Hussey ’20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Edina, Minn. She majors in psychology and women and gender studies.