Friday, December 4, 2015

I Need You to Fight for This

In my town, there were three elementary schools, and children were divided amongst them depending upon the area of town they were from, no exceptions....but only one of the three schools was accessible, and it was not the school closest to my house.

"Your daughter is an exception," the people in my town told my parents. "She can attend the accessible school so that she won't have to deal with the stairs."

"No, thank you," my parents said.

The world will not adapt to you, my mom used to remind me. You must adapt to the world.

You will have to deal with a world that wasn't built for you for the rest of your life, so you might as well start now.

Stairs were hard for me. At four years old, the staircase to my bedroom seemed like a mountain. My wobbly legs made it difficult for me to use stairs like a "normal" person, so I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled up. To get down, I sat on the edge of the staircase and used my arms to scoot my bottom down one step at a time.

One morning, my dad declared that I was no longer allowed to go up and down stairs using this method, the only method I knew. His intentions were good, no doubt—he was probably trying to prepare me for the challenge that I would have to navigate at school. But for whatever reason, he wasn't there when I actually had to make it down the steps...and this was a problem. I sat at the top of the staircase in my pink flowered pajamas, and my brother stood next to me, clutching his blanket. I turned to him, perplexed. "How am I s'posed to get down?"

With his thumb in his mouth, he stared down the mountain of steps, considering my situation.

After a moment, his face brightened. He ran down the hallway and returned with a laundry basket.

"Get inside," he said, positioning the basket at the landing of the steps.

I climbed in, my knobby knees pressed up against my chest.
He then proceeded to push the basket down the stairs.
Adults might have thought he was reckless. 

I thought he was brilliant.
Today, as a college student, I manage steps without a laundry basket—although I still maintain that my brother's adaptation was a brilliant one, albeit maybe a tiny bit reckless—but staircases still represent somewhat of a challenge.

And that's why my heart dropped when I learned that my college's graduation ceremony is going to involve stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. Cement stairs.

I met with the disability coordinator about this a couple of weeks ago and she said that maybe I should sit it out – not the actual "receiving a diploma" part, but she said that maybe it would be best if I didn't walk with my class during the ceremony. 

I told her that I wanted to think it over, and I have plans to meet with the event coordinator in the near future to go over details...because ohmygoodness it is complicated. I don't know how I'm going to do it, how I'm going to manage this whole ceremony, because honestly? Right now, it sounds like a nightmare.

I mentioned the situation to my mom, lightly, and she dropped what she was doing and turned to look at me.

"That's not fair," she said. "You've worked just as hard for this as your classmates have—harder, even. I need you to fight for this. I need you to fight because you earned the right to walk with your class on your graduation day."

Thinking back to my mom's words – The world will not adapt to you; you must adapt to the world –somehow, sitting out doesn't feel like adapting at all.

The way the event is laid out right now, I just don't think I'd be physically capable of joining my classmates. But after all they have done for me, I think my parents deserve to see me walk with my class. I deserve to walk with my class.

I'm not sure what to do. I'm not sure how to fight for this (ANY ADVICE?!). But I'm going to try.


  1. I think the first thing to do is go back to a more fundamental question: Why would your college choose to plan an event that involves lots and lots of stairs? Did nobody think about accessibility? Are there no other venues on campus, or walking routes, or whatever that would be barrier free? It is astounding that they would get this far without being confronted about something so unjust that could have so easily been avoided. And that's a very common thing with accessibility. A lot of barriers can be avoided by sensible planning, and solved by a willingness to adjust plans. Also, for a disability services coordinator to suggest sitting out any portion of your commencement experience is appalling. I don't think I'm exaggerating. It's appalling. Even if she's super nice and meant well, it's appalling.

    Okay, so all that said, I would suggest thinking of this as two separate issues. 1. How can I participate in all of commencement without killing myself, and 2. How can I get the administration to change how they plan this kind of thing and make accessibility a priority? You can decide to tackle one, the other, or both.

    There are times when it's best for you, yourself, to let things slide and adjust on your own, like you did as a child. But key aspects of the world SHOULD adjust to you, and you SHOULDN'T always feel it's your job to adjust yourself. I'm with your mother, it's time for your college to adjust to YOU. You have more than paid your dues.

    Good luck!

  2. I adore that story. What an ingenious brother! And you have such a powerful way with words, I felt like I was there. But ok. To the brainstorming. Would it make any difference at all if a classmate held your hand throughout the steps? I know that might be difficult to ask for, but I assure you I would be honored if a friend asked me for that...
    Is it possible there's another entrance? Most people don't know about accessible entrances unless they live it. Seriously how could this not be accessible in the year 2015?? Even if it takes extra minutes to get to the accessible entrance, or requires sacrificing some of the ceremony--your school owes you this! Best of luck, I really really really hope it works out. I can't believe you're graduating...what are your plans?

  3. I had a similar situation with my college graduation and I just had the person in front of me help me up the stairs. I contacted the dean beforehand and asked her if she could find out who was behind and in front of me. I just happened to know the person in front of me and was comfortable asking her to help. She didn't mind at all and it went well. They also gave me the option of asking a friend that wasn't graduating to walk me up. If getting someone's arm would help, you should see if that's a possibility.

  4. Is this stairs up to the stage and down from the stage? Can you do them at your own pace? Could you start early, get up there, and either hang out at the back of the stage or up front and shake hands in the line with the deans until its your turn to cross? Wait until the end of your [subject, letter of the alphabet, whatever] to navigate down the stairs at your own pace?

  5. No advice just wanted to say I'm sorry you're dealing with this! :(

  6. I have cp and stairs are hard for me too. I had a friend help me. Maybe your brothers can help you? Still fit in a basket? ;) kidding of course ...

  7. I have cp and stairs are hard for me too. I had a friend help me. Maybe your brothers can help you? Still fit in a basket? ;) kidding of course ...


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