Although Knox meets legal codes for accessibility, concerns have been raised for students with physical disabilities who may have trouble navigating facilities or may not have the support they need on campus.
According to Director of Facilities Services Scott Maust, as new buildings are built or renovated the school must install elevators or lifts if said building is multiple stories in order to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Old Main and George Davis Hall both do not have elevators because they were built before ADA requirements came into place. Maust said there are plans to put elevators into these buildings when the funding becomes available.
Alumni Jennifer Lloyd ’13 was in a wheelchair for part of her sophomore year at Knox. She said she had to use crutches along with her wheelchair in order to access all of the campus.
“I still had the crutches with me because the buildings I had classes in the most were GDH and Old Main. … So that was one thing that was definitely not convenient,” she said.
Post-baccalaureate John Budding ’13 started the Knox Alliance for Disability Support and Advocacy this year to help support students with disabilities on campus and provide awareness to the greater student body. Budding is partially blind and realized during his time at Knox that there was not a student group on campus for students with disabilities.
“If I needed support there wasn’t really a way of getting in touch with other disabled students to hear about their experiences and such. So I formed KADSA,” he said.
Budding said that while he realizes the college has financial limitations in making their buildings more accessible, the lack of options for students with disabilities is a form of discrimination.
“It is a certain level of discrimination in that if we don’t build a building that someone can get into we’re discriminating against those kinds of people. We can use the ‘we don’t have the money’ excuse, but if we’re not following standards, we’re not following standards, and we should be.”
In addition to a lack of accessibility, there have been problems at Knox with social attitudes towards students with disabilities. Alumni Sarah Koehnke ’12 is a congenital right hand amputee, meaning she was born without a right hand. She said that during her time at Knox she experienced some social stigmatization from faculty and students on campus.
“For a job that I did an interview for at Knox, one of the staff members was like, I don’t know if you can lift a box that was maybe two pounds. He more or less said that I’m not physically capable of doing a job, but he was happy to have me prove him wrong,” Koehnke said. “I did not take that job because I would rather work for someone who knew that I was a person, not a challenge.”
Sophomore Mitch Olsen will be next year’s KADSA president. He said that he thinks there is a lack of understanding that disabilities are a part of diversity on campus.
Budding also thinks disabilities need to become a bigger part of diversity on campus, but said that because our facilities do not have good options for students with disabilities, many will not come to Knox.
Both Olsen and Koehnke said that during their times at Knox, the professors and faculty were overall accommodating and would make adjustments to work with them. Maust reiterated this perspective.
“I would say the real key to all of this is if somebody has a need to really talk to people. … If we know about it we’ll do everything in our power to help,” he said.
Olsen and Budding said that while they think physical accessibility is an issue on campus, there are greater problems with the mental health services offered by the school for students with psychiatric or learning disabilities.
“People with invisible disabilities – whether they be emotional, behavior, psychological, learning disabilities – those disabilities tend to be responded to more negatively, I think purely just due to a lack of understanding,” Budding said.
Olsen noted that the Student Health Center is a major issue on campus and that it does not provide the necessary support for students with disabilities.
“There’s a clear lack of respect for those with mental disabilities. … There’s a lack of response, there’s a lack of urgency.”
According to Olsen, KADSA sent a letter to the Health Center inquiring about the possibility of forming student-led therapy groups.
“I would bet more people would choose the unprofessional student-led group over the professionals at this point, because there’s no trust,” he said.