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Original art for The Clerk by Nava Mach '27

OPINION: All Students Includes Disabled Students

When I first toured Haverford, I saw one thing that set it apart from other schools. As my tour group walked through VCAM, I noticed a poster for the student group Disability Advocacy for Students at Haverford (DASH). As a disabled person, that poster affirmed that this was the school for me. I felt seen, and was excited to know there were other disabled students like me that met with one another to create a sense of community. That poster for DASH was what sold me on Haverford. 

I was reminded again of that poster as I stood outside the Haverford Snow Ball on the steps of Founders Hall at the end of the fall semester of my freshman year. To say I was excited for this dance would be an understatement. I saw the Snow Ball as my chance to make up for prom, which I had missed during my senior year of high school. Due to my disability, I am unable to attend events with flashing lights, which barred me from even considering attending my high school prom. I saw the  Snow Ball as a chance to make up for the teenage rite of passage I had missed months before.

I was wrong about the Snow Ball. I stood outside Founders, with my makeup and hair done, wearing a pink silk dress. I could not enter the building without having a seizure as lights flashed inside. In an instant I was reminded of the prom I had missed due to its inaccessibility, and now I had missed the Snow Ball too. I was angry, disappointed, and utterly heartbroken that I could not enjoy a fun event with my friends due to a lack of accessibility. 

The Snow Ball snowballed into a lengthy proposal that I created with the help of a friend, which we turned in as the final for a course centering around disability. Over the next several weeks, we created a proposal for a Student Event Accessibility Committee (SEAC) for the school. This committee would include student representatives from various event planning groups in order to create accessibility standards and educate student groups in accessibility regarding event organization.

The committee was officially formed last semester, and my friend and I were elated to represent our respective groups of Fords Against Boredom (FAB) and the Federal United Concert Series (FUCS). We began meeting with members of staff and faculty in order to realize some of our accessibility goals. We were excited to at last get this project off the ground, but this was much easier said than done. In our meetings, the faculty, staff, administrators, and other student advocates we speak to have all recognized that many of the barriers we face at Haverford involving accessibility are due to the school’s inaccessible structure. Working around these barriers in order to try and create accessible events while a majority of the spaces available are inaccessible in one way or another is a painful task. 

Recently, we have been working on ways to teach student groups about accessible event planning, amending and advising the current postering policy so that events can advertise their accessibility, and adding questions to Event Management Services (EMS) relating to accessibility in the booking process so that students can request accommodations for their events from Access and Disability Services (ADS).

However, the very existence of this committee is evidence of Haverford’s refusal to commit to accessibility, which leaves disabled students to pick up the slack. Why hasn’t our institution adapted and changed in order to become more accessible? The ADA has been in effect since 1990, and yet in those three decades, despite the majority of our buildings undergoing alterations, many have not made progress in improving accessible features and infrastructure. There is not enough space or time for me to list all of the buildings on this campus that only have stairs, have no ramp accessibility, the rooms that lack braille on the numbers outside of their doors, the school posters that are placed over automatic door buttons that prevent disabled students from using them. I have met countless disabled students that have fought tirelessly for their accommodations to be recognized and respected by their professors. We are tired of constantly self-advocating as we continue to face physical and social barriers in accessibility.

Instead, the school focuses on touting buildings like Woodside Cottage as accessible when there is no physical way for students with mobility needs or in wheelchairs to access their professors’ offices on the second floor. The school performatively parades false narratives of accessibility while they fail to address ongoing accessibility issues. The persistence of inaccessible spaces after 34 years sends a clear and consistent message to disabled students that we are not welcome. 

What this comes down to is a lack of awareness and a lack of education. As someone who became disabled later in life, I think about many things now involving accessibility that I never would have considered years before. Thus I am asking you to make an effort to notice Haverford’s inaccessibility. Notice the posters covering automatic door buttons.  Notice when people park their bikes on the ramps meant for wheelchair users. Notice when an elevator is out of order and how that may prevent people who need it from getting to class, or buildings that lack elevators entirely. Notice the number of steps into your dorm building and how they may prevent students from visiting their friends or limit their campus housing options. Notice the signs without braille, the lack of image descriptions for school posters or imagery, the lack of Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) captioning or sign language interpreters for events. Notice how your professors treat you when you will be absent from class, and how they put immunocompromised students at risk by urging sick classmates to attend class or risk their grade. Try to notice the things that may not be affecting you, but are affecting your disabled peers.

Haverford cannot claim to be a truly inclusive campus if as an institution they continue to push disabled students away with inaccessible infrastructure and programming.

Haverford College, you must notice the disabled people you teach, employ, and welcome onto campus on a regular basis. I then ask you to make change. Change is what will help in achieving true inclusivity.

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