Accommodations and Accessibility by Flavia Martinez ’18

Content warning: institutional violence

The following is a pastiche of content from The Amherst Student, exchanges over Facebook message, academic works, and thoughts. All quoted material appears in italics.

 

This year, ResLife is trying out a program called Early Room Selection. The goal of the system is to create “an ethical and transparent process of room selection for students who choose to use approved housing accommodations for their documented disability(ies)” that provides students with housing accommodations “the opportunity to choose a friend or friends who would live in the same residence hall with the student who has housing accommodations,” according to a document sent by Foley to students with housing accommodations.

The OED defines able-bodied redundantly and negatively as “having an able body, i.e. one free from physical disability, and capable of the physical exertions required of it; in bodily health; robust.” Able-bodiedness, in turn, is defined vaguely as “soundness of health; ability to work; robustness.”

When I was sick in late January, I couldn’t walk or sit in a chair comfortably. Going to Val or class was suddenly out of the question. I emailed the Office of Accessibility Services asking if someone could bring meals to my dorm room, which I thought was a reasonable request. An administrator approved me for “to-go meals,” but noted that a dining services employee could not bring me food. Someone would have to swipe my ID, ask for a to-go box, and bring it to my room.

Under the new system, students with accommodations will receive a lottery number based on their class year and will have the option to bring one or two friends to participate in Early Room Selection. This new system makes it possible for students with single-room accommodations to have friends live on the same floor as them.

I’ve known people who’ve successfully pursued and received the necessary accommodations to remain level… and people who’ve had outright negative experiences at every stage of their ordeals.

I hope the administration will stop jumping so quickly to pathologize its students and police how their bodies must function and perform.

Second, even though the language of “the normal relations” expected of human beings is not present in the definition of able-bodied, the sense of “normal relations” is, especially with the emphasis on work: being able-bodied means being capable of the normal physical exertions required in a particular system of labor. It is here, in fact, that both able-bodied identity and the Oxford English Dictionary betray their origins in the nineteenth century and the rise of industrial capitalism. It is here as well that we can begin to understand the compulsory nature of able-bodiedness: in the emergent industrial capitalist system, free to sell one’s labor but not free to do anything else effectively meant free to have an able body but not particularly free to have anything else.

The law does not naturally provide for bodies outside the norm and instead ensures their continued inequality.

These changes come after recommendations from Roosevelt @ Amherst, a branch of the Roosevelt Institute, which brings students together to research policy. Last March students in the group published an article in The Student that outlined their suggestions for how to improve life for students living with disabilities on campus. One of these suggestions was to create a “Buddy System” for students with housing accommodations, much like the one introduced this year.

The to-go box isn’t so bad if you’re sick for a day, but when you’re sick for a week, it becomes difficult to keep asking friends for meals, especially if you live on the Triangle or the Hill. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t help worrying that my friends were busy and didn’t have time to bring food or keep me company.

That said, some members of the staff and faculty go above and beyond to identify a student’s needs, find a suitable path forward (sometimes through trial-and-error), and coordinate the tricky parts of bureaucratic triviality.

When a psychiatrist at the Health Center prescribed me medication, they said I would likely need a low dosage because I was “high-functioning.”

Two years ago, an Amherst sophomore broke her foot. She suddenly found that her life at Amherst became much more difficult. Getting around campus, going up stairs, eating at Valentine Dining Hall— simple, everyday tasks were suddenly strenuous endeavours to navigate a largely inaccessible campus landscape. Unfortunately, Amherst’s Office of Student Affairs was less than helpful. As she described in a recent interview, “I got pretty much zero help … the administration was unresponsive and unhelpful, which I found infuriating.” When she called the campus police for assistance in getting to class, they were dismissive of her requests for help. One of her classes was located on the third floor of Arms Music Building, and the Office of Student Affairs said its location couldn’t be changed. “‘For some reason’; the administration didn’t let it happen,” she said.

When I finally started taking a medication that helped me walk comfortably, I would head to Val at 7:30am, 11am, and 4:30pm to avoid long lines. Braving Val by myself, I tried to smile. I would I ask for a to-go box, but I didn’t look ill. One of the Val swipe-in attendants moved to grab a box and added, “You must be in a hurry!” They could have just been making small talk, but I was vulnerable, and I wanted to cry. I was made to feel as if I were simply too busy to sit down and eat a meal.

Normalization drives the matter of corporeality underground, so to speak, in the press to flatten differences into the multicultural mosaic that continues to champion normative modes of existence while seeming to become more flexible and therefore in line with key facets of neoliberal adaptability.

I’m thankful for the tangibility of my illness and recovery period.

The process of securing Early Room Selection was not easy, according to Annika Ariel ’19, the current president of Roosevelt @ Amherst. After meeting with a variety of administrators in in October 2016, Roosevelt @ Amherst created a survey to research students’ satisfaction with housing accommodations. However, the survey never reached the student body, according to Ariel.

“When two of us [from Roosevelt] brought this up at a Presidential Task Force on Accessibility and Inclusion meeting, we were told Accessibility Services and ResLife didn’t feel there needed to be a survey,” Ariel said. “So Joshua Ferrer ’18E and I posted on Facebook about everything that had transpired, [and] AAS wrote a letter in support. Shortly afterwards, according to [Chief Student Affairs Officer] Suzanne Coffey, [President] Biddy [Martin] convened a meeting of staff to talk about changing this. And then the policy was finally implemented.”

Needless to say, it’s a complicated mess, and sustained attention is essential should any change ever manifest. Long-term advocacy is a problem within a community that regurgitates a part of itself on a yearly basis. Old memories (and they’re not even that old) should not be left to wither up and die.

The result was a humiliating experience that no student should have to go through: she had to be carried up the stairs. While some professors were understanding of her resultant tardiness, one professor was less than sympathetic and docked her final grade as a result.

The accommodations the administration makes for its students are insufficient, and this very instance shows an opportunity for the administration to help its students. Why not create a job, where students, like Safe Ride drivers, are on-call and paid to deliver meals to students who can’t make it to Val? Why can’t this be a volunteer network? Not only does this help people who need the service, but it has the potential to create jobs and allow for community members to step up and support each other. The operation seems simple.

Cited material:

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. “From Liberal to Neoliberal Futures of Disability: Rights-Based Inclusionism, Ablenationalism, and the Able-Disabled.” The Biopolitics of Disposability, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015, pp 35-62.

McRuer, Robert. “Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence.” The Disability Studies Reader. Davis, Lennard J. The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, New York: Routledge, 2006, pp 301-308.

Swislow, Emma. “College Updates Housing Accommodations.” The Amherst Student, issue 147-17, 2018.

The Roosevelt Institute at Amherst. “The Invisibility of Disability at Amherst.” The Amherst Student, issue 146-20, 2017.

Tripaldi, James. 21 February 2018. Facebook Message.

 

fmartinez18@amherst.edu

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