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RUOCCO: Rutgers must better support students with disabilities

Column: A Piece of Mind

Students with disabilities deserve better access and treatment at Rutgers. – Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash

Frustrated. My mind moves faster than my feet while a flock of eyes watches my every step. Tired. The hands of time tick within my chest, mimicking the sound of my accelerated heartbeat. Defeated. What once took only a few minutes for me now takes an hour. I feel helpless.

Recently, I underwent an ACL repairment surgery which has hindered my ability to walk, binding me to crutches for about two months. Though this is an injury that I will recover from, I have noticed the ways in which Rutgers University is not handicap accessible. While most buildings on campus do have elevators and accessibility buttons to open doors, not every button works, and not every elevator is reliable. 

I live in Tinsley Hall on the College Avenue campus which has one elevator that has broken down three times this year. Each time the elevator has broken down, it has taken two to three days for the elevator to be fixed and each time the elevator has been permanently slowed down.

An elevator can be someone’s only way to get to their desired destination, and when it is taken away from them, getting around becomes nearly impossible. That means there were two or three whole days where I could not get to class or go get food because stairs are not currently an option for me. So, I wait.

After getting out of the elevator in my residence hall, I make my way over to my psychology class at Scott Hall on the College Avenue campus. As I make my way over to class, I go through the Academic Building, also on the College Avenue campus, take the elevator and trek through Voorhees Mall. This takes about 15 minutes.

Though it takes time for me to get there, the real struggle is when I get to Scott Hall. I press all of the accessibility buttons from the outside and wait. The doors do not open. So, I continue to wait.

A kind stranger opens the door for me, and I slowly make my way into the lecture hall. As soon as I walk in, another flock of eyes watches me go from the door to the front seat with intensity. After 80 minutes, I am back to crutching around.

As I leave from the back of Scott Hall and head over to my next class on the College Avenue campus in Murray Hall, I feel another set of eyes glare at me while they quickly pass by. I force myself to look forward and tell myself to keep going. Step. Crutch. Step. Crutch. Then, I feel a tap on my shoulder, and my eyes meet the same set of eyes that flashed moments before. They ask me if they could carry my backpack to my next class.

Though I have experienced the ways in which Rutgers has its setbacks with handicap accessibility, this past week has also been eye-opening in regards to the kindness here on campus.

I have experienced both sides of the spectrum — from the eye rolls because I am taking too long to the generous offers to carry my backpack to class. And, though I have had some negative experiences, the majority of my experience has been positive. Rutgers University itself may not be a very handicap-friendly campus but the students are, and such kindness has made my daily travels around campus more pleasant.

Even though the students are willing to help, Rutgers should not be forcing others in this position to do so. The University needs to acknowledge how much of a struggle it is for students with physical handicaps to get around campus, especially in regard to getting into classrooms and other buildings.

Through the Office of Disability Services at Rutgers, students with physical disabilities can be transported around campuses to their classes. While these services are helpful to many students on campus, they do not change the way that Rutgers' campus is physically set up.

There are more stairways than there are ramps, there are classrooms that are unreachable due to the lack of an elevator and there are many broken and unreliable accessible buttons. There needs to be change. There are too many students at Rutgers who feel frustrated, tired and defeated. To ignore these issues would be to let the student body suffer.

For more information about the Office of Disability Services at Rutgers, follow this link

Gianna Ruocco is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and journalism and media studies and minoring in psychology. Her column, "A Piece of Mind", runs every other Thursday.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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