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Friday, August 5, 2016

Access Fail at Syracuse

On Tuesday I wanted to do something ordinary. I wanted to check my Syracuse University office mail box and treat a visiting scholar to lunch. I parked in a lot next to the building, Bowne Hall, where I work. I intended to cross campus and eat on Marshall street. I was in a good mood when I took the photo below.

Syracuse University is a gorgeous campus. Kendrick's Chapel, depicted here across the lush green grass, is one of many spectacular buildings on campus. When I took this photograph I was happy and looking forward lunch. Four hours later I had heat stroke and was within minutes of calling 911. Let me explain.

Syracuse campus is a challenge for any person that uses a wheelchair. The campus is hilly and the winters are long, cold and snowy. Summer, especially this year, can be dry and hot. Tuesday it was hot. As one that is susceptible to heat stroke I am cautious in the extreme with regard to heat. I parked as I always do in the parking lot next to Bowne Hall. I planned to go from Bowne to Marshall street, a relatively short walk. Those that use a wheelchair or ride a bike know going from Bowne to Marshall street is down hill and in good weather can be accomplished at high speed. The tricky part is getting back to Bowne Hall. There are multiple routes back to Bowne that avoid some seriously steep hills. The routes I take back to Bowne Hall are far longer but offer shade and slopes that are much less steep than a direct walk across campus. Before I arrived I knew the campus was going to be torn up as part of the Campus Framework. The controversial University Promenade project was in full swing so I knew getting around would be interesting. It was in fact my first time back to campus since classes ended the first week of May. What I encountered was far worse than expected. The artist rendering:

Essentially the large red line above cut me off from the rest of campus. I knew it would be a challenge to get back to Bowne. I did not expect the heat to be as bad as it was. I did not expect every route back to Bowne that was longer but offered substantially fewer steep hills would be closed off due to construction. To cross campus I had only one option--go up the steepest most direct route back to Bowne. It was 2pm, it was hot, and the steep route was in full sun. I knew I could not make it.  I also knew no consideration had been made as to how a person using a wheelchair could get across campus. I passed multiple ADA violations getting to my destination. Sadly, it appears that the Promenade at this stage has made navigating campus substantially more difficult for wheelchair users. I am not surprised. In the last two years the campus has become less accessible. Repeated ADA failures are the norm. Extensive delays in trying to get any reasonable accommodation for students and faculty alike have destroyed the morale of all those I interact with. If it takes me a year to get a van accessible parking spot what is happening to students seeking reasonable accommodations? The answer to that question breaks my heart. Students tell me they do not seek reasonable accommodations because the process is arduous and demeaning. Students with a disability seek me out because I am a rarity. Precious few faculty members at Syracuse and beyond have a disability. I listen to students and provide counsel but there is not much I can do aside from offer moral support. What is clear is that access and any reasonable accommodations requested are believed to be a problem. Sometimes the problem gets solved. Many times the problem does not get solved. The obvious issue here is that access is not a problem to be solved. Access is a civil right. I am weary of having my rights violated on campus and off.

I am well aware many nice people will read my words and be hurt. We are trying they say. Great I appreciate the effort but what do I do in the immediate time frame. Where do I park today? Where are the accessible bathrooms, speaking podiums, faculty housing etc. How do I get across campus while the Promenade construction is on going. The answer is I don't. I had to ask a friend to help push me across campus. By the time I got across campus with some major assistance from a friend and colleague I was very badly over heated.To make matters worse the road leading to my home was closed. In short, it took an hour to get across campus in the blazing sun and another hour to drive home. The 15 minute trek across campus and drive home took over two hours. By the time I got in my apartment I had all the symptoms of heat stroke:

105 temperature
Alteration sweating
Rapid pulse
High blood pressure
Skin flushed crimson red
Rapid heart rate
Rapid breathing
Throbbing headache

Thankfully my roommate was home, quickly assessed I needed immediate and active assistance. A bucket was filled with ice water, ice cold hand towels covered my body, and freezer packs placed on my chest. Within an hour my core temperature returned to normal. I was sore for three days. I avoided calling 911 by about ten minutes.

When I write that ableism kills, I mean it. I could have stroked out. I was lucky I did not end up in the local ER. Some really good people at Syracuse put my health at risk. Yes, a bad confluence of events beyond getting across campus were involved. All it took however was a modicum of thought. How will a person using a wheelchair get across campus? This is the rub, Getting across campus and access is framed as a problem. On a huge multimillion dollar project problems abound. However, I am not a problem but a human being.

To reiterate, I got lucky. The day after I struggled to get across campus a "wheelchair bound man" was killed by a tractor trailer near my apartment. This happens hundreds if not thousands of times a year. The human being killed is filler, a story on page A33. I know exactly where the "wheelchair bound man" was killed. I cross the street where he was killed. The carnage appears below:

When I write I feel isolation in the marrow of my bones I truly mean it. If I am rendered a "problem" on the campus where I work, I have good reasons to worry about the larger world for I know it is a far more hostile place. If you doubt this, look at the carnage above. That could just as easily been me with my wheelchair strewn across the street. As I have said many times, ableism kills. I am not a problem. I am a human being.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm glad you didn't end up in the hospital.