Unshoveled College Campuses Leave Disabled Students in the Cold

A large snow drift covering a sidewalk, making it impassable.

Have you ever wondered why the song is titled “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”? The answer is quite simple: the Winter Wonderland is completely inaccessible, leaving thousands of people with physical disabilities and mobility impairments unable to traverse through the snow-covered sidewalks.

Nowhere is this more problematic than on college campuses.

While I’m fortunate enough to attend a college where there are snow plows to battle the relentless storms, many students aren’t as fortunate. When colleges allocate funding for sports, athletes, sports-related public speakers, sports-related murals showing the athletes so that the sports-related public speakers can have a backdrop when they speak about sports, and the occasional investment in academics, there’s little to no funding set aside for snow removal.

This might not seem like an issue to the average abled person but consider this:

–   Many colleges have campuses that stretch on for miles.
–   Many students experience the packed schedule wherein they have to get from one side of the campus to the other in ten minutes lest they be late.
–   Many students face grading and/or disciplinary consequences if they are late multiple times.
–   And even if you omit the above consequences, students who are late will still miss out on vital information.

In addition to these problems, unshoveled sidewalks can cause major safety concerns for both disabled and able-bodied students. Not only do students have to worry about tripping or falling, but they also have to worry about prolonged exposure to the cold temperatures and precipitation. And of course, we also have to take into account the fear that comes with being a disabled person trapped in the snow with no way to move and nobody around. The thought of this happening is terrifying to me and I know I’m not the only disabled person who worries about it.

On the bright side, college campuses are usually packed with students who are always willing to lend a hand. Yet colleges should not have to depend on their students to keep each other safe; it should be the responsibility of the staff. Having clear and safe pathways across a college campus shouldn’t be a luxury or an afterthought; it should be a given.

Normally I’m very passive when it comes to advocating but this particular topic has made me saltier than the sidewalks. Then again, if the sidewalks were salty, I wouldn’t be writing this article. So, this is a call-to-action for any and all staff members at college campuses across the nation: please do everything within your power to ensure that your campuses are as accessible as possible in the winter. Everyone, including disabled students, has the right to be able to freely and safely get around.

And since we have places to go, clear the snow, clear the snow, clear the snow!

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Burgandi Rakoska is a wheelchair-using Ph.D. student in the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds. Her project focuses on the factors that contribute to disabled university students dropping out of higher education. Originally from Olean, NY, Burgandi has spent the past decade trying to serve as a microphone for disabled people’s voices.

One response to “Unshoveled College Campuses Leave Disabled Students in the Cold

  1. I felt exactly the same way when I came back to Duke. I had to keep nagging the disability office to clear snow and path on the only accessible route from my dorm that lead to all of the eating places. It’s like they do the minimum, but don’t think ahead.

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