Letter to the Editor: Jan. 28, 2013

Marsha Soule’

I moved from Bryan, Ohio, to attend Kent State Stark in Fall 2012 in hopes of finishing my Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice. After nearly having a stroke and damaging the muscles in my arms, hands and wrists, I feel I have no choice but to move to Dayton and enroll into Wright State University to finish my studies. This experience at Kent State Stark has been very educational in the terms of the campus’ “failure in action.”

When handicapped students are socially ostracized by an administration, that attitude trickles down to the student body. This leaves a student body that does not know how to interact with the handicapped because they are left with no academic model to follow. This is a huge problem at Kent State Stark, and because of this, the majority of the student body does not know how to interact with handicapped students, nor do they respect them or empathize with their daily lives.

Inconsiderate students are rude when they use handicapped bathroom stalls reserved for those who need them. I know it’s great that those stalls are so big and roomy, but they have a purpose.

Interaction and socialization at Kent State Stark would be greatly facilitated if the administration allowed handicapped students to post and hire through the student body, because of health issues, job opportunities and making students feel accepted through reciprocity.

We no longer live in the Dark Ages, and as a civilized people, our government has taken steps to improve the quality of life for the handicapped. Through enforced laws, institutions are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Handicapped individuals usually have more than just one medical problem. For instance, a mobility-challenged person might also have high blood pressure, along with paralytic conditions. Using a wheelchair in perfect conditions can be no problem, but that same person might not be able to navigate 10- to 12-percent-grade hills, like those at Kent State Stark. These steep grades can cause stroke-inducing blood pressure spikes, damage muscles, cause cramps or carpal tunnel in the wrists. These health issues become a greater problem to the handicapped individual as they traverse obstacle-ridden avenues.

I find it appalling that Kent State Stark has made its buildings handicapped-accessible but nullified its efforts by manually building steep hills in front of each of these accessible entrances. To put in a better perspective, that practice is comparable to helping a homeless person with a bag full of cash, but having it protected by a cobra. Why make the effort if it is not your intention to help that person? Obviously the answer to that question is that it’s state-mandated.

I sent Amanda Weyant an email, and spoke with her personally. Weyant is the Student Accessibility Services coordinator at Kent State Stark. I asked for help in finding someone who could help me from my car up the steep hills, and to my classes, while confined to my manual wheelchair. I was willing to post a job position for the student body. Amanda replied in an email and in person that they could not help me. All they were willing to help with was a larger desk to accommodate my wheelchair. I was also advised to hire someone outside of the college. I find this totally unacceptable. I was willing to pay a college student out of my own pocket so I could easily get to my classes on time. I’m sure with the price of gas, many students would have jumped at the opportunity.

In the first few weeks of attending Kent State Stark, I did not notice handicapped students were unwelcome. I was walking with my prosthesis, an artificial leg, so it went unnoticed. After injuring my foot, which left me in a wheelchair, those perspectives have been totally exposed. Kent State Stark has complied with all the legal requirements for the handicapped with electric doors, ramps, bathrooms and even posting signs for the elevators. However, I believe this was done for the single purpose of complying with the state of Ohio.

It’s great that handicapped students can get into all these buildings, but where are the handicapped supposed to socialize? They hang with friends at the non-smoking areas at the picnic tables, but they have to sit away from friends outside the intimate area of friendship. This becomes awkward, distant and unsociable.

In the cafeteria, students in wheelchairs have no choice but to sit out in the walkway while eating because the tables are too low to accommodate a wheelchair. This causes some students to see the handicapped as an obstacle they have to walk around, or an inconvenience in their daily lives.

The library is slightly better, as the computer tables are higher than most, but when a handicapped student has to use those computers, he or she has to move the library’s chair from the computer terminal, leaving it out to the side. Again, other students see this as an obstacle they have to deal with.

It is not my intention to single any one person out, but if you can see yourself on the wrong end of the stick, then I suggest self-examination is in order.

No one can know their own future, and neither do they plan to wake up one morning disabled. I’m sure Christopher Reeves never planned to fall from a horse, causing paralysis; President Franklin Roosevelt never planned to develop polio; Darryl Stingley never planned to be tackled on the football field hard enough to break his neck. These high-profile people caught the eyes of a nation, and our hearts went out to them; but what about the little people who are not in movies, presidential offices or the National Football League? We as a civilized people are beyond the age of keeping the undesirables hidden in a house behind closed doors.

Self-examination is easy to execute. Are you one of those people who do not know what to say to someone who is handicapped, so instead of talking to him or her you give that crazed-hyena look? Do you use the handicapped bathroom stalls, and after getting caught you do not apologize, but instead tell them, “This is the first time I’ve ever done that,” then hurry away? When you see someone in a wheelchair having trouble wheeling up a ramp, do you change directions so you don’t feel obligated to help them?

If you answered yes to any of these three questions, then it is my suggestion that you enroll into a course for interpersonal relationships and moral sensitivity, just as I suggest for Kent State Stark’s administration. Without the self-evaluation and changes to correct inappropriate behaviors, uninformed people cannot live up to Kent’s motto: “Excellence in Action.”

Marsha Soule’ is a junior criminology and justice studies major.