When senior Karen Evans arrived at Knox in 2015, she felt that her behavioral and psychological disabilities were adequately accommodated by faculty and staff. Once she began experiencing physical health problems, however, she endured a loss of mobility.
“Once my body began to deteriorate and it was harder to walk around campus and use stairs and things, I started to hate this place more and more,” she said.
As a political science major, Evans has spent much of her academic career in George Davis Hall (GDH), which she regards as one of the most inaccessible buildings due to its many stairs and the lack of an elevator. In a survey sent out to the student body by TKS, participants were asked to provide responses regarding issues of accessibility on campus. Evans voiced her frustrations about the campus and its lack of accessible facilities.
“I’m graduating soon and a large chunk of my time here was spent trying to figure out how I was going to access parts of the campus,” she said in her survey response. “It was exhausting and ridiculous and if my answers seem bitter and cranky, it is because I am definitely both bitter and cranky.”
Despite also facing challenges with accessibility at Knox, junior Natasha Caudill feels lucky that she is capable of physically accessing most spaces on campus.
Being legally blind, Caudill receives academic accommodations. Caudill has challenges outside of the classroom, such as crossing the street or finding offices, that are not easily accommodated through formal requests from Disability Services.
Caudill finds that, at times, faculty and staff are not informed enough about the needs of students with disabilities. She often debates with herself as to whether she should remind her professors of a particular need or try to manage without the accommodation.
“Professors write on the board all the time, and I can’t see the board. And halfway through the class, a professor will be like ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry,’ Caudill said. “I don’t want to be the annoying student who is like ‘by the way, I can’t see,’ but I also want to be able to engage with the class as much as I can and as much as other students.”
Although she now feels comfortable speaking up and advocating for her own needs, Caudill has not always been this way. She recalls instances of missing assignments in high school because she did not feel comfortable reminding teachers of her needs. She is concerned for disabled individuals who cannot advocate for themselves.
“If it’s something in class and you’re too scared to advocate … you’re gonna miss stuff in class and you’ll miss information,” she said. “And if professors aren’t aware that that’s happening, then nothing changes.”
Caudill thinks that increased conversation around disability would benefit disabled students in ways that are not managed by an accommodation through Disability Services. To her, ability and accessibility is not something that able-bodied people think about often. Likewise, sophomore Lauren Gray recognizes that she is not always conscious to inaccessibility.
“Once in awhile I’ll be like on the steps of Post or my room in Post is up high and I sometimes will get out of breath and I’m like ‘Oh I’m out of shape,’” she said. “But like imagine if I was less able-bodied than I am and how much harder that would be.”
Evans does not feel that the Knox community considers all identities when thinking of diversity. She feels that there are a number of simple fixes that would make Knox more accessible, such as adding a ramp to the quads – many of which have a singular step.
“I think it has a lot to say about what the representation is of people who are making these decisions at Knox,” Evans said. “Because if those things are being considered, maybe people with disabilities aren’t being represented and having those conversations because they’re not thinking about it, because it’s not their life.”
Being able-bodied, Gray acknowledges how important her academic accommodations are for her ADHD. She speculates that a person in a wheelchair, upon visiting Knox, would decide not to enroll.
“Knox does pride itself on inclusivity but I don’t know how many disabled students Knox actually has, and I think the majority of disabilities here are mental or cognitive disabilities,” Gray said.
Director of Disability Services Stephanie Grimes agrees that communication between students and the rest of campus is the key when promoting awareness and inclusivity regarding disability on campus. For Grimes, this means having students with disabilities as leaders — students who are able to advocate for other students with disabilities and engage in conversation with those who do not. She acknowledges that interaction with non-disabled students is vital.
“We want able bodied people to be part of that too, because they need to have an understanding and grow in their understanding,” Grimes said. “How can you ever grow in understanding another group if you don’t ever interact with them, you don’t ever participate with them, you don’t ever do anything with them?”
Like Grimes, Director of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez feels that change takes place within the student body. With the rise in student leaders initiating discussion on disability and accessibility in the past year, Cervantez is hoping to see a shift in the culture surrounding ability.
“I think that also shows a shift, that when your student leaders are talking about it without prompting, that conversation is more mainstream,” Cervantez said. “And it’s not just about individuals with that need having the conversation, it’s individuals that are advocating on behalf of their fellow classmates.”