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UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Letter to the Editor: Disabilities Issues

You see a person in a wheelchair crying who is waiting for the shuttle – what would you do? Last week a student in a wheelchair got on the shuttle in front of the campus center and when she asked the driver to tie down the wheelchair, the driver said he didn’t know how, and then asked the student to get off the bus. She was very upset and embarrassed, and started to cry. Then, a second bus came along, all the students got on the bus, and the driver said that he didn’t know how to operate the lift. So the second shuttle left her behind. A third shuttle came but didn’t even stop for her. After learning of this, our office (Disability Services) notified the transportation office, and they assured us that the drivers will be trained. But what amazed us more than the lack of knowledge and sensitivity of the drivers was that, here was a student, a peer who was visibly upset, and no oneasked her why, nor did anyone insist that the driver stop and put her on the bus. Everyone just continued getting on the bus and, as the student later said, “looked at me as the bus drove away.” Some of my colleagues, who had directly interacted with the student, as well as one student I was meeting with, were in tears upon hearing about this occurrence. I myself have been hardened somewhat, having seen too many similar situations like this, but decided to write about what it means to be a community. We boast about our campus diversity, but does this diversity contribute to creating a community? I think community is a way of looking beyond individual differences. We should not be asking how to keep someone out, but rather how we can let them in. In a community, we don’t ignore or deny our differences, but rather accept them, celebrate them, and commit to them. Commit to each other. Commit to stand up against what is not right. The bottom line is that we all depend upon each other, because we all have limitations and imperfections. Until we accept that in ourselves, we cannot accept that in others who are limited in different ways. In a healthy community we don’t say “this is someone else’s problem,” but instead ask “how can I help solve this problem.” So why am I writing about community? Lately I’ve noticed apathy among some students who just don’t seem to care. Being in a wheelchair, I have been in the situation where I have waited for an elevator, only to have other students jump in front of me and fill the elevator while they look at me as the door closes. I have seen people jump over a blind student’s cane because they are in a hurry to get somewhere. And every semester it seems to get harder to find class volunteers willing to give a copy of their notes to a student with a disability. Last week I read the article “Admin to Fix Campus Center Disabilities Issues” by Kristen Deoliveira. I was quoted (along with others) regarding the access issues on campus. As I read this article I realized how much we concentrate on the physical barriers and not the attitudinal ones. Physical access issues are of course important. As one who wheels around our campus, and as an employee who has worked in this university for over 11 years, I think it’s important to have a building that is fully accessible. The administration has assured students and staff that plans are set in place to deal with inaccessible doors, Braille signage, and emergency evacuation plans; but the administration is not alone in the responsibility, students should also take part in that responsibility. However there is so much more than just physical access issues to consider. As a community we should watch out for each other, be there to lend a helping hand when a peer cries, and celebrate achievements when a peer succeeds. Being a student includes learning how to be a responsible member of a community. So next time you see someone you think might need some help, just ask – maybe they do.

–Zary AmirhosseiniAssistant Director, Ross Center for Disability Services