After recently tearing my ACL, I had to spend a week on crutches trying to get around the UMass Amherst campus. Accessibility was never something I had thought about before, simply because I never needed something to be accessible. It was not until I was on crutches I realized how difficult it is to get around the UMass campus if you are not fully able-bodied.
The first issue I ran into was the automatic doors. Trying to open a door, stick my crutch in front of it so it doesn’t slam, and scoot through was almost impossible. I was very lucky that other students would go out of their way to hold the doors for me, but what about when they weren’t there? Many doors around campus did not have an accessibility feature for them to be opened automatically. The second issue I found was most of them did not even work! Many times I would try to press a button or wave in front of a sensor and I would be trying for a minute before I realized it did not work. I could not imagine if I was in a situation where I could not open the door for myself how I would get into these buildings without others’ help.
Another issue I ran into was at Frank dining hall. Every dining hall has accessible elevators to get into it — except for Frank. Frank has a ramp and an elevator that is hidden inside the kitchen. While I know ramps are all under a code for accessibility, going down the ramp with crutches made me worry about picking up speed or falling so I asked to use the elevator. The elevator was through the kitchen which was difficult in itself since in a kitchen it gets greasy and people are moving all over. I had to be super careful going through so I would not slip or accidentally bump into the workers.
While the DuBois Library does have an elevator, every student knows that during the day it gets crazy busy! I ended up just using the main floor as my study floor since if I wanted to another floor I would have to wait so long and go in an elevator that is packed like sardines. Then when coming down I would have to make sure to give myself extra time as waiting for the elevator to actually have space while going down is a luxury!
During the winter Amherst gets a lot of snow, especially this year. While snow days helped, the leftover snow and ice that was in the parking lots and sidewalks were super tricky to navigate. I even had a friend who has no injury and they wiped out in a parking lot due to the amount of ice there was. While it is hard to make sure to get every patch of snow and ice off of our huge campus, it made me scared going around campus on crutches.
Overall, UMass has a lot of work to do to make our campus more accessible. I was so grateful once I was able to get off of crutches and walk again so that I felt like I could actually get around. Though this is not the case for many students who need accessibility features around campus and proves why we need to make changes to our campus.