Even though Lauren Beller considers Temple
to be the most accessible school for students with disabilities in the Philadelphia region, she said she still thinks more can be done.
Beller, a junior secondary education and psychology double major, and three other students are in the planning stages of forming a group that would give students with disabilities a formal voice both on campus and in Temple Student Government.
“Temple is pretty good in terms of accessibility compared with the schools in the Philadelphia region,” said Beller, who uses a wheelchair because she has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a joint disorder that restricts her mobility.
“But there are still a lot of things that should be that are not.”
The initiation of the group, called XL, is born from what Beller said she sees as a lack of student representation for those with disabilities.
There are 1,400 students with disabilities on campus but no group currently represents them, she said.
She hopes XL will muster the latent potential for activism in students who she
thinks should be speaking out more, while serving as a loudspeaker to their collective voice to push for services and raise awareness on campus.
“The lack of services is mostly due to people with disabilities who should be speaking out that aren’t,” Beller said.
“People stopped fighting for things.”
Andrew Mullen, a senior finance major and co-chairman of the Diversity Affairs Committee of TSG, said the creation of a group specifically for students with disabilities would do a lot in the committee’s mission to raise awareness on campus.
“It’ll make their voice a little louder because it’ll be recognized,” he said.
The Diversity Affairs Committee is in the middle of a campaign to raise awareness of the disabled population on campus.
Committee members put informational cards on the windshields of cars parked in handicapped spaces that informed the drivers of the need to leave such spaces to those with disabilities and warned them of possible fines.
Diversity Affairs also recently finished a survey observing the number of students who use electronic door openers in various buildings. Those buttons, Mullen said, have a relatively high incidence of breaking, although he did not have data on what that rate is.
For Matt Clizbe and his twin brother Craig, both senior broadcast and telecommunications majors who have cerebral palsy, raising awareness within the entire student body about those with disabilities and within the disabled student population about one another, is the primary goal of XL.Having a disability can be isolating because many students on campus aren’t sure how to interact with disabled students, Matt Clizbe said.
“The goal is just to bring the community together – disabled and not disabled – the same way any other minority would,” said Matt Clizbe, who co-owns a production company named Clizbeats with his brother.
Providing entertainment to the whole Temple community would help bridge the gap between the two groups, he said.
“It would make you aware of our struggles, but it would also show that when we get together in a united cause, we can have a damn good time.”
Beller spoke of a of a time when multiple adapted recreation sports teams were available to disabled students who demonstrated during the construction of the subway stop on Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Broad Street, picketing to make sure a wheelchair-accessible elevator was included in the design. At the time, the gym boasted a wide array of equipment designed for the disabled.
Now, Beller said, there is only a basketball team and “one old, beaten hand cycle, which is basically a piece of crap.”
But the gym equipment wasn’t carried off with users still clinging to the pulleys, said Steve Young, senior director of student services. It was donated due to lack of use.
“We had equipment when we first opened in 1998 and we had it for about six years, but we donated it because there was minimal use if any,” Young said. He said that while there isn’t any gym equipment for students with disabilities, those who want to use the gym are paired up with recreation therapy majors who assist them in using the equipment. And as for the sports teams, it’s hard to run a team of any kind when only two people show an interest, he said.
Now the program is organized in such a way that it responds on a somewhat ad hoc basis, forming groups and hooking students up with outside clubs when the desire arises. Renee Kirby, associate director of disabilities, who attended Temple 20 years ago and began the adapted recreation program, said she has seen the transformation Temple has gone through from being a school with decent accessibility to one she said as being the best school for students with disabilities in the northeast.
“We have more access than we’ve had in Temple’s history,” Kirby said. “Temple is like a highway compared to what it was 20 years ago.”
Kirby was instrumental in that transformation. As a student, she started the adapted recreation program and helped push for more opportunities for students with disabilities.
Students who come to her complaining about the lack of opportunities for the disabled at Temple are met with a mix of encouragement and a lack of pity.
“If students have challenges at Temple, it’s not because they have disabilities; it’s because they don’t see a clear path,” said Kirby, who will be the staff advisor for XL.
There are, though, different opinions about what “access” means. Kirby testifies to the limitless potential for student activity to create an environment that caters more to the disabled. But she also said only so much can be done in terms of physical accommodations.
Much of the difficulty comes in assessing what can be altered and what is fated to remain part of the difficulty of not having full mobility of one’s body. Anna Lohr, a 46-year-old student who has cerebral palsy, said while most of the campus is accessible, it can be hard to open many of the bathroom doors. She also said she almost got tipped over from the bumps in the road on 12th and Montgomery streets.
Beller echoed Lohr’s frustrations. Construction work on Broad Street was particularly difficult and something should have been done to address the problems it poses specifically for the disabled, she said, although she did not make any specific recommendations. There are no bathrooms with electric doors in Weiss Hall and she said she has to leave class to go to the new Student Center to use the restroom there, “which is pathetic.”
But Temple meets the requirements for accessible bathrooms in all of its buildings, Kirby said, including Weiss Hall. Kirby acknowledges that while Temple is catching up with federal mandates for accessibility, there are still some buildings that could be more disabled-friendly.
“It’s a matter of time catching up with the need to make such an old campus accessible,” Kirby said. “You can’t go tearing down buildings just to put accessible bathrooms in them.”
Kevin Smiley, a junior journalism major and one of the four founding members of XL, said that the 1940 Residence Hall has had a preponderance of elevator malfunctions
which he said was never addressed.
“If there was a plan that day, or if there was something with school or friends, I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Robert Bryson, the fire marshal who the Office of Facilities Management said oversees such maintenance, could not be reached for comment.
“It’s not like there was any time when the elevator was down and mechanics were just sitting around while everyone was suffering,” Kirby said.”There is a reason we have such a large population of students with disabilities,” Kirby said, “and it’s because we’re so accessible.”
Andrew Thompson can be reached at email@example.com.