STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES WEIGH IN ON ACCESSIBILITY AT WARTBURG

HALIE FRAHM, A FIRST-YEAR STUDENT, POSES WITH A AUTOMATIC DOOR BUTTON AT WARTBURG COLLEGE. – SILVIA OAKLAND

SILVIA OAKLAND, TRUMPET EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

The idea of navigating the Science Center felt intimidating to Drew Carfrae as a first-year student. The split levels and the sense of unfamiliarity of the building were only two problems, but the overall lack of accessibility loomed. 

Now, fourth-year Carfrae feels just as frustrated as the year he arrived on campus. 

“In the Science Center there’s the good elevator and the bad one in the skywalks near the library,” Carfrae said. “You have to call security just to use the one in the skywalks and the thing is like a death trap, basically.”

Security defined this elevator as a lift, which is less stable than an elevator used for people and is intended for the transportation of equipment from the sky walks to the Science Center. However, on occasion it is used by students who need to get to the first level of the building from the skywalks.  

To access the Science Center, Carfrae has to travel through each building starting in the Saemann Student Center and through the skywalks until he arrives at the Vogel Library. He then takes the library’s elevator to the ground floor where he travels back outside to use the ramp into the Science Center. This path often happens in the winter, when the sidewalks are icy and the weather is cold.

Carfrae has a rare condition called Arthrogryposis, defined by Johns Hopkins Medicine as a “number of conditions that affect the joints.” Arthrogryposis has affected Carfrae since birth and when picking a college, he wanted one close to home in Waverly and with accessible areas around campus.

DREW CARFRAE, A FOURTH-YEAR STUDENT, HAS A RARE CONDITION KNOWN AS ARTHOGRYPOSIS. – KATIE HIRV

“I wanted to be close to my mom in case of any emergencies,” Carfrae said. “We’ve had times where my day-to-day school helper couldn’t come to work for some issue and the fact that I’m close to home makes my mom more accessible to me, so she can come and pick me up.”

Other students feel the same. Halie Frahm, first-year international relations and sociology double-major, also uses a wheelchair.

Before her first math class in the Science Center, Frahm left an hour early and made it to class just in time due to the struggle of operating the elevators and navigating the building.

Frahm, like Carfrae, wanted a college that was accessible throughout the campus and in the campus’ culture. Frahm’s decision first began with finding one that was able to provide her with an inclusive campus atmosphere.

READ ALSO: LIVING WITH HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM AS A COLLEGE STUDENT

“I visited with a lot of disability offices on campuses to talk about not only physical accommodations, which were available to me, but also other opportunities that there were for disabled students on campus,” Frahm said. “I wanted to make sure that I can get involved in that as much as possible, no matter what.”

Students with physical disabilities can be easier to see and understand the different struggles, but for students like Em Ellison, third-year music therapy major, accessibility became an issue after starting college. After taking a year-long break from college, Ellison was diagnosed with bipolar depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and reached out to Pathways about accommodations on campus. 

“I didn’t really know I needed accommodations until this year and honestly, I kind of felt nervous about asking for accommodations,” Ellison said. “I have OCD so I have to have a note-taker. I was like ‘I don’t know how to feel about this’ because I didn’t really know anything about accommodations until I talked to Nicole Willis.”

“I feel like every structure should be, at minimum, modified, if not remodeled to a certain extent. You know I’m going around campus and really all I want to do is just to be able to do stuff by myself like any other student.”

— HALIE FRAHM

Willis, disability and access coordinator, has helped students throughout campus understand what accommodations are available to them. Accommodations vary from student to student and include things like extended time on tests, assistance in class and emotional support animals (ESA). Gene Anne Berst, fourth-year psychology major, began to work more closely with Willis to bring Ivy, Berst’s ESA, as a service dog during the 2020-21 academic year. 

“Before classes began, I emailed Nicole Willis as well as my professors to let them know my situation. Both professors were used to having service dogs in the classroom due to the amount of work Wartburg does with Retrieving Freedom,” Berst said.  Retrieving Freedom is a non-profit organization in Waverly that trains service dogs for veterans and children with autism spectrum disorder. Wartburg classes partner with the organization frequently. “I often need to step out of the classroom with Ivy because of my pseudoseizures.”

Despite help from Pathways and Willis, students like Carfrae, Frahm and Ellison all wish for more easily accessible areas on campus and a larger discussion on how to make Wartburg more inclusive for students with disabilities. Frahm hopes to see changes to the automatic door buttons to a larger size to ensure people who struggle with fine motor skills can easily open automatic doors, along with adjustments to bathroom doors within dorms. 

GENE ANNE BERST, FOURTH-YEAR PSYCHOLOGY MAJOR, HAS DONE WORK WITH EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL TRAINING – GENE ANNE BEST

“I feel like every structure should be, at minimum, modified, if not remodeled to a certain extent,” Frahm said. “You know I’m going around campus and really all I want to do is just to be able to do stuff by myself like any other student.”

Willis said conversations are being held when it comes to updating buildings on campus to be sure they have equal accessibility for all students. Similar conversations were held back in 2016 when Clinton Hall was renovated and are happening again as talks surround renovating The Complex. 

“I mean most campuses have some older components,” Willis said. “But we can make accommodations to meet students, where they’re at in order to meet their needs whether it’s through housing or academic in the classroom.”

In addition, Ellison and Frahm would like to see a student organization run by and for students with disabilities, an idea that they have presented to Willis who would also like to see a student disability union or something similar. Frahm said her ideal student organization to work with other organizations on campus to help increase awareness and work on intersectionality across campus.

“It would be nice because then we can all share experiences and then from those experiences you could be like ‘OK so here’s something we experienced. Can we begin to fix that or work with teachers to solve these problems?’” Ellison said. 

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