By Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23
Growing up, I was equipped with a unique perspective on how able-bodied people treat and perceive the physically disabled. My Uncle Chicho was born with cerebral palsy, which is defined as “a congenital disorder of movement, muscle tone, or posture.” As a result of his cerebral palsy, my uncle isn’t able to perform tasks that seem natural and normal to most people. He has been confined to a wheelchair all of his life and cannot feed himself or use his hands. He requires help from an aide to use the bathroom or eat. He also has a severe speech impediment, so it is very difficult to understand what he is saying at times.
My mom, his sister, would tell me stories about their childhood when I was younger. When they were kids, people were not as accepting of the disabled as they are now. In fact, my mom told me a specific story that has stuck with me my whole life that has truly made me an advocate for the disabled. One time when they were on a walk with my grandmother, a mother passing by was asked by her own children what was wrong with my uncle. She responded that they shouldn’t dare to go near him because they might “catch” what he had and could end up “looking like him.” She did not even bother to say these things quietly, as my mom and uncle heard everything plainly. I can’t imagine how hurtful that must have been for my grandmother and her two children—this ableist attitude is not something that should be tolerated, ever.
My uncle is a very impressive man and is someone that I have looked up to for my entire life. With the help of my grandmother, he was able to attend Hofstra University and Touro Law School. He now works as an attorney for the City of New York and has dedicated his life to helping others, despite his own situation. He is an amazing person and everyone who knows him adores him. However, he may have not been able to achieve everything he has without support for his disability. Hofstra University had many options for him and was very helpful with their accessibility policies. When it came to law school, my uncle’s choices were very limited, because not all the places he got into would be able to accommodate him. He ended up choosing Touro, which he loved, but it still is unfair and unfortunate that he was not able to attend another school he may have wanted to go to more because they were not accommodating enough.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is “a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability . . . An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” This law applies to employment, transportation, public accommodations, and more. It also applies to schools, like the College of the Holy Cross. I will not go so far as to say that Holy Cross ignores the physically handicapped. There are handicap entrances to some buildings, like Kimball and Hogan. Additionally, there are elevators in every building that handicapped people could use. It is also significant to say that Holy Cross is built on a hill, so it is undoubtedly difficult to be entirely accommodating to a group of people that probably is low in number. However, it is extremely important to at least try.
With tuition cashing in at a whopping 71 grand, it’s hard to imagine why not every building on campus is handicap accessible. Dorms, for instance, may have an entrance that is ground level, but you need a keycard to swipe in anyways. This could be difficult for someone in a wheelchair, or even a person on crutches (like an injured athlete for example), to do. Also, a lot of these entrances do not lead to elevators, just stairs. So a student would have to figure out a way to get up the stairs even if they can’t walk. A lot of the time, elevators around campus are out of order or being “serviced” for weeks at a time (like the elevators in Hogan that have switched in being out of service since the start of the year). Also, I can’t figure out an easy way to get into Stein without taking stairs except for going through the courtyard, which is accessible from either the back of the building or by… you guessed it, stairs. Having a disabled student make their way around the building like that is too much to ask of them.
I think it is time for the new administration at Holy Cross to have a serious conversation about handicap accessibility on campus. In the meantime, if you would like to check out the current resources available, please visit https://www.holycross.edu/health-wellness-and-access/office-accessibility-services.