What my wheelchair experience at DSU taught me about struggles of being disabled

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In a journey to see how disability-friendly the Dixie State University campus is, I put myself in their shoes by using a wheelchair.

After approximately 16 hours of being in a wheelchair on campus, I experienced many encounters of struggle, friendliness and gratitude. Some others involved difficulties; for example, the Performing Arts Building was tricky to get around in. My Jazz History classroom in the PAB was too small for a wheelchair. I sat in the back and had to move many chairs and a table to fit. I also noticed there was no automatic button on the outside door.

Some buildings on campus are not built in mind for students with disabilities. Toilet paper, soap dispensers, sinks and drinking fountains are hard to reach in the Whitehead Education Building and other buildings. The entrances to the WEDU are also not the most convenient for students with disabilities.

I noticed some of the doors on campus, such as the doors to the Gardner Student Center, have a handicap accessible sign on the door but no button to open the door automatically. It was a struggle to swing the door open, roll in quickly and catch the door before it hit me on the way in.

Struggling and scooting along my first day with the slopes and doors on campus, I was offered help up to classes, many doors were opened for me and I was generously greeted by other students.

I was often sweaty and worn out by the time I got to my class and was incredibly grateful for the hour of class time to rest my body.

Kari Gali, an associate professor of education trained in special education, said she teaches her students how hard it is to move around campus as a person with physical difficulties. She requires them to spend at least one hour anywhere, on or off campus, in a wheelchair and explain what they encounter. Her students often find the same results as mine — a few places on campus are not easily accessible.

“The more we are exposed to individuals with disabilities, the more sensitive we are to their needs and want to help,” Gali said.

Spending time in a wheelchair has made me more sensitive to assisting others around me. By opening doors or helping people out, it makes their lives a little easier.  

Jonah Tuttle, a freshman psychology major from St. George, has been temporally placed in a wheelchair due to a longboarding accident about five months ago.

He said the DSU campus is certainly disability-friendly, and the only struggle he finds is having someone helping him get to where he needs to go. He is, however, grateful for the help and support he already receives.

Jacob Morley, a sophomore finance major from St. George, recently had surgery on his ankle, and during his healing process, he will be relying on a knee scooter for the next six weeks. He said his experience getting around campus has been rather easy, and students have been friendly in helping him.

Joshua France, a freshman theater major from Dammeron Valley, was born with a disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which causes all the muscles, starting with the legs, to continue weakening through time. Despite France’s condition, he still attends school and pursues his theater degree. With France’s classes all on the northern side of campus, he said he finds it easy to get to all his classes.

In this test to learn how accessible DSU’s campus is, I found that DSU is friendly to people with disabilities for the most part. But an even greater lesson than whether DSU is disability-friendly is remembering that, as Gali said, “a person with a disability is just like everyone else.”