Monday, March 30, 2015

Low Priority

Imagine this as an illustration: When I started my second American law degree program in the Fall of 2007, my school decided I needed to register with the Disability law school on the main campus. Until then the administration has been figuring out my accommodation requests on its own and the previous Dean of Students believed that my condition was so visible and obvious he didn't need a piece of paper to back it up. The one who replaced him had a different view- and I didn't really mind if it helps to drive up the disability statistics to give them the resources that they need. The fact is that the law school is a bit further away and the students don't interact with the undergrads or the main campus too much. I must confess I only knew a few of the key buildings that I frequented often. The campus was big, I didn't then- and I still don't now- know where everything was. And a lot of times all you get is a name of a building like it's supposed to mean something. I remember being shocked when I finally figured out where I needed to go. You'd think it'd be somewhere more prominent like the International Center was or the place we got our ID's or close to the bookstore. But it was a bit further off and away and I remember I had to make a day of it. It was near a busy street, nowhere close to buildings that I was familiar with and I remember crossing ir, getting up on that sidewalk and figuring out where to enter was a challenge. The path was steep to say the list and as I was rolling uphill I was trying to figure out where to go. I remember the offices being in the back of a dorm, that I  had to get around the entire building to get to. I didn't think much of it then as I didn't want to be late- and I had no reason to go back there again- but it was striking how hidden and away from the public view the disability offices were. I guess I thought it was a temporary solution for some construction - or that they expanded and needed a bigger space, but for all I know they're still there- in the basement of a dorm, all the way in the back, you'll miss it if you don't know what you're looking for. At it seems symbolic and literal all at once about how strongly the administration sees disability issues as a priority. Hardly visible, far away from the main action - in the basement. When I first moved to America and started school nobody approached me to see if I needed anything like figuring the  city out and finding an apartment. Naive as I was at the time I figured it must mean that the city is so wheelchair accessible I must be able to do all those things by myself and if I'm lost- just like with any able-body person, it's on me. Everyone is independent here, I thought, I need to step up my game. "America has outgrown disability, now it's up to you"- I thought. And in many ways I'm happy I had that attitude the first year, because it did push me to do all those things, often barely, to the best of my abilities. Now I just feel that everybody just assumed I could do everything as soon as I got there, because they were never really exposed to disability issues. They don't know what it's like, they don't understand the struggle, because the never needed to. A friend with a disability recently said, "They don't care about us, we're like a shameful secret". And at that moment I thought of that basement office on the back of that dorm. For the record, and speaking of dorms and apartments- the University did offer me a place in the dorm- a few weeks after I signed a lease and moved in with a roommate that i vowed not to abandon- into a not very wheelchair friendly apartment. But that's a story for another day....

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