It is often that the things we do not see and the people we do not hear from are those being most affected by the status quo. This is absolutely the case when it comes to disability services on a campus with an average accessibility score of 3.0 out of 5 (according to TKS survey at the end of Spring Term last year).
While the survey had clear limitations in sample and how it quantified accessibility, the trend is clear. Students who struggled with accessibility were specifically solicited for the survey, which may make the results less statistically sound but does show the thoughts of the most affected group.
Knox has proven to be relatively unfriendly to non-able bodied individuals, lacking in the infrastructure resources students deserve and coming around slowly to more systemic resources in the past few years. It is good that a Senate ad hoc committee on accessibility was created and even better that a senator impacted by the low-accessibility on campus used their position to raise attention to this issue, but it is a shame it has taken this long for something like this to come together.
Firstly, we are relieved to know that senator Ashley Kerley is doing okay after her injury. It is a show of a good representative to take an issue affecting them so personally onto the Senate floor for immediate action, and we are glad to see this in the wake of larger concerns over Senate. We are also glad to see that Senate as a whole was able to act swiftly and thoughtfully on Kerley’s charge for action. This is a step in the right direction for both campus wellbeing and democracy and is a welcome sight.
However, going forward it may be beneficial to have this accessibility ad hoc committee merged into the larger Diversity Committee. This is a committee that already has a clear mission and designated resources at its disposal that would easily help improve accessibility.
Combined with the support from our new accessibility counselor, Christopher Lee, Senate would likely be able to more easily mobilize holistic, tangible actions around such a goal. Diversity is not just a matter of melanin: it is the product of the intersection between race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, ability and so much more. Our committees ought to reflect that.
Looking at the bigger picture, it is necessary that this ad hoc committee move to get accessibility into a formal commitment by the school, perhaps as part of the Knox 2022 strategic plan. It is not unexpected that this topic keeps entering conversations and reporting across campus: it’s impacting many students across the board. The school is certainly concerned with the level and stability of enrollment on campus, and how disability friendly or unfriendly it is almost certainly impacts that. Every year we are closing the door on disabled prospective students. This defeats the aim of allowing for an equal chance at going to a school like Knox for many. That has to change.
Accessibility is a wide ranging problem. For students who are non-abled bodied it is a constant consideration but it can also become important for students with injuries or temporary impediments. Nor should it take a Student Senator being injured for something to be done.
Accessibility was brought up as a major problem Knox faces in the town hall at the end of last year and Lee’s hiring is a clear move towards addressing it at an institutional level. The ad hoc committee is too. Senate’s support for the committee makes clear the student support for addressing accessibility.