The Americans with Disabilities Act has done a lot for me, and for a while, I didn’t even realize it.
In July, I attended various events around D.C. commemorating the ADA, which was enacted in 1990. I was lucky enough to be a member of a panel of emerging leaders in the disability community, hosted by the Department of Education. I also marched from Metro Center to the Capitol with thousands of disability advocates from around the world at the National Council on Independent Living’s annual march and rally.
Through these experiences, I learned how much we’ve accomplished. But I also realized how much we still have to do to make our own campus more accessible, ranging from fixing sidewalks to widening ramps.
Being ADA compliant isn’t the same as being fully accessible to all students with disabilities. GW has a responsibility to realize this unfortunate disconnect and be more proactive in addressing some of the access needs on campus.
The ADA prevents schools from discriminating against students with disabilities and, in addition, the school must provide reasonable accommodations in order for students to succeed at school. Without the implementation of the ADA, the University’s Office of Disability Support Services would not exist.
Of course, I’m beyond thankful for DSS. Without that office and some of the accommodations that it has provided for me — like accessible housing and note-takers in my classes — I know that I wouldn’t have been able to attend GW. If it weren’t for them, I would have no choice but to live at home in New Jersey and go to a state school.
The most basic function of DSS is to make sure the school is compliant with the ADA — but they, along with GW, can do more. As a wheelchair user, I am all too familiar with the completely torn-up sidewalks that render some blocks inaccessible to me. I constantly have to remember to take different paths to classes to avoid some particularly bad pavement around construction zones.
Even the brick pavement in front of my residence hall is extremely uneven and difficult to drive on. It’s completely possible that someone using a wheelchair could fall out of their chair trying to navigate it.
But that’s not all. The ramp outside Gelman Library is incredibly narrow and steep, making it difficult to use. In addition, crosswalks on campus should be fitted with technology that verbally prompts pedestrians when to cross. This would vastly improve the safety of anyone with a visual impairment who is trying to navigate the busy streets around campus.
None of this may seem like a big deal to most people. But these seemingly “little things” can make a huge difference to a student with a disability considering whether or not it’s possible for them to attend a particular school.
“The University is committed to accessibility and inclusion,” DSS Director Susan McMenamin said. “Through Disability Support Services, we continue to work collaboratively with students, faculty and staff across the University to promote disability culture and broader diversity and inclusion efforts.”
It’s important for officials to recognize that failing to address these access needs would not only be an egregious disservice to all students with disabilities, but also to the University community at large. GW can only benefit from an increase in students with disabilities, who can offer their unique perspectives and add important voices to various conversations.
As I arrived last week for my final undergraduate year at GW, I inevitably began to reflect on my time here and my looming graduation. I can already picture countless people telling me how much of an inspiration I am for graduating.
The problem with this is that I don’t necessarily want to be an inspiration. I’m only considered one because my story isn’t the norm.
This might seem counterintuitive to many student mindsets at GW, but I want my story to be normal. In order to make my story and the stories of other students with disabilities normal, the University needs to make sure that their experiences here are safe and accommodating.
Jaggar DeMarco, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.