Fall 2009 AmeriGlide Achiever Recipient

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About the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship

Every year, the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is awarded to two students who use wheelchairs and attend college full time. One of the requirements for receiving the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is to provide a response to our essay question.

This years recipient and essay is listed below.

Fall 2009 Essay Question:

What area of your school do you think would benefit from improved accessibility and how would you improve it?

Fall 2009 Winning Essay

I am a 38 year old single disabled mother with three children in the home. I was disabled at the age of 32 in an automobile accident and now, six years later, I have still not gotten used to the idea of being disabled. I am a recent flood survivor as well as a survivor of domestic abuse and recently displaced homemaker. My current endeavor is going through Oklahoma State and Cherokee Nation Vocational Rehabilitation programs to gain skills to re-enter the workforce in a new career field. I’m an outspoken person with a positive outlook and have faced and overcome many life challenges and frightening obstacles; however, I had no idea how frightening and challenging the “simple” task of enrolling in college would be.

I arrived at the college campus that day and drove completely around the vast expanse of buildings, reading the signs to familiarize myself with this new environment. Having done my admissions and financial aid applications online, since this is my most comfortable setting since I became disabled,  I only knew about the college campus what I could learn from the online tour and campus map. I found there to be ample handicapped parking throughout the entire campus and thought that to be a very good indicator that the rest of the college would be very handicap accessible.  There was a front door handicapped parking space at the admissions building and I gladly took it.

As I sat there in my van getting my necessary documents in order, young college students of all kinds, races, shapes, sizes, nationalities, etc. bustled all around me. This was the first time that day I had felt a little twinge of fear about entering into unknown territory and out of all the different kinds of students I saw all around campus, I saw none like me. By that I mean 38 years old or disabled.

As I stated earlier, I had never been on campus before, so, when I entered the unfamiliar building I went directly to the directory on the wall to locate the offices I needed. They were all on second floor. I could see an open stairwell door so; I assumed the elevator would be near there. I drove my wheelchair to the stairwell and to my complete and utterly fearful disbelief there was no elevator in the entire building! This evoked my second twinge of fear that day.

I returned to the student volunteer at the desk in the center of the main lobby and explained the situation to her. She told me that she couldn’t leave her post answering the phones to take my documents upstairs for me, but said she would call upstairs and tell someone. She did and they told her that all the counselors were busy at the time and none were available to come downstairs and assist me.

All the time, as I sat there wondering what to do, more and more students were shuffling past me up the stairs and I had a mental image of the line upstairs getting longer and longer. This caused fear twinge number three to boil over. I can walk, but not far or fast, I can only climb a few stairs at a time without having to stop and rest and ease the pain, and can’t stand long at all without the pain becoming unbearable, but I knew I had to conquer this obstacle to finally fulfill my goal of a college education at the age of 38.

I parked my wheelchair near the stairs and began the long painful journey to the second floor, down a long hallway, and just to get there and have to stand in not one, but two long lines. Slowly but surely, I did it! Then I managed to finish my business and make it out of the building and back to my van, where I had to sit several minutes and let the pain subside before I could drive.

On the drive home I found myself thinking of how many ways this situation could have been avoided. I know that I, personally, don’t expect colleges, employers, businesses, etc. to make things more difficult for themselves and other non-handicapped people in order to make things accessible to disabled people, and I don’t believe that any other disabled person expects it either.

The first thing any establishment needs to implement to make any service more accessible to the handicapped and disabled is, to care. Look to us as an asset and not a burden or hindrance and we’d all be more comfortable around each other. If any one of the dozen college employees and volunteers I came into contact with on that day had simply “cared” about my situation, we could have discussed it more thoroughly and found a solution. I didn’t expect for any of them to drop what they were currently working on and usher me to the front of the line. I just wanted some way to get in line fairly and equally with all the others.

If it were up to me, I would implement a number system, so if a handicapped person needed services from an office they couldn’t access within a college building, they could go to the main lobby desk, where the volunteer there could call the office they needed assistance from and the next number would be assigned to that person. That number would reserve their spot in line, instead of all other students more able-bodied than them being able to cut in front of them in line. When it became time for that number to be served, a counselor or clerk could then come downstairs to conduct business with the disabled person with little to no inconvenience for anyone involved.

There are so many simple solutions I can think of to make handicap accessibility so much easier, make access to those vital college areas so much more accessible to those who need it. Handicap accessibility can be accomplished without costly demolition and remodeling of long-standing and sometimes historic campus buildings. It’s not necessary to rip up a building to install an elevator. In the instance I noted above, the ground floor lobby of this particular college building was more than spacious enough to accommodate a cubicle in the corner with one clerk or counselor to assist the handicapped people who can’t walk, climb stairs, or stand in long lines with the other students on second floor.

We don’t want you to rearrange the entire campus to be conveniently accessible to handicapped only. It’s really not an equal rights for the handicapped issue as much as it is an equal human rights issue. We should all try our best, no matter what our job duties imply we “should” do, to help each person we meet each day in any way they require to feel as worthy and equal and as appreciated a human life as everyone else. I don’t think handicapped people want preferential treatment, demand to be assisted first, or moved to the front of the line. I don’t want to cut in line. I just want the opportunity to get in line.

About the Author:

Rosonna Ennis is currently attending Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma.

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