Essay Contest Winner Explains How to Make Campuses Accessible

February 7, 2008

1800wheelchair.com: According to more than 600 students who entered the 1800wheelchair.com Scholarship Essay Contest, being disabled in college means facing both social and physical obstacles. It's been 15 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet disabled students say they still struggle with accessibility on campus. The challenges don't end with the physical environment-students say colleges and universities need to improve understanding and acceptance. This year, the second for the scholarship, entrants were asked to write an essay explaining what changes they would make on campus to better the lives of disabled students. Increased accessibility was the paramount concern. Students not only call for more and better facilities, but for more attentive maintenance programs. Several students reported shocking negligence in the upkeep and planning of automatic doors, elevators and dorm facilities. Joseph Piekarski, founder of 1800wheelchair.com, says it was hearing these kinds of stories that prompted this year's essay topic. "It always amazes me to hear that accessibility is still an issue in this day and age," Piekarski says. Physical obstacles aren't the only challenges disabled students face day-to-day. There are psychological barriers too. Clay Brand, a Florida State University student, observes that even wheelchair ramps can create feelings of exclusion if disabled students need to circle the building looking for the ramp while their classmates use the main entrance. Other students described similar feelings when confronted with inaccessible gyms and campus hangouts.

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