Image: Tim Brighton – Flickr
On the first day back from easter break, Access Sussex— a Student Union campaign to ensure that students with disabilities do not face discrimination on campus—organized a tour of campus to highlight the obstacles students with disabilities face on an everyday basis.
It was important, informative and overall striking at how negligent our university campus is to basically any person living with a disability— be it a visible or invisible one. Just to contextualize this issue and to throw some numbers your way, a recent Badger article noted that there were 120 obstacles on campus for students with disabilities. That’s a lot.
Within the first minutes of the tour, it became readily clear how inaccessible sussex’s campus was. Instances of this were widespread and kind of disgusting. They ranged from the strip lighting in the library, which can be painful and distracting for people on the autistic spectrum, to the unmarked cars of ignorant douchebags parked in reserved disabled spots.
It was also aptly pointed out to us by Miriam Steiner, the fierce human leading our tour, that any signage for the accessible entrance to buildings like Arts A or the library was nowhere to be seen.
Even the entrances that were boastfully stamped as accessible by the university had unimportant and superfluous curbs in front of it, thus making it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for people with a physical disability or a wheelchair to access the building. And that lift in the library the university is probably really proud of? It has been broken since September.
As we snaked through campus, taking all sorts of detours to avoid the plethora of staircases and curbs, we arrived at the accessible library entrance about half an hour later. This means that it took us half an hour to move from library square to the nearest accessible entrance to the library, something that would take the average able-bodied student about thirty seconds to a minute to do so.
To reiterate, this is twenty-nine minutes of someone’s day spent solely because of the university’s ableism—that is, their attitudes and practices that implicitly and/or explicitly discriminate against and neglect any persons living with disabilities.
Once we arrived at the end of our tour, students from Access Sussex, as well as representatives from the Student’s Union shared varying experiences of our university’s ableist attitudes. The types of ableist thinking ranged from daily microcosms to some broader, more implicit forms. One student shared the fact that their tutor held certain moral preferences and they chose not to use their microphone while presenting thus denying students who require these tools any access to their lecture.
Steiner rightfully pointed out to us that these examples all point to the dire need for thorough staff training on the needs and lived realities of students living with disabilities—this applies to tutors and security guards alike.
As a person with no visible or invisible disabilities, this was a necessary hour for me. I get to bask in my able-bodied privilege day-in and day-out, strutting from lecture to lecture without second thought of all the inclinations, slopes, steps, curbs, bumps and barriers that exist on campus.
This gave me a chance to take a better look at the route I take for granted everyday. More than this, it made me incredibly peeved at how shitty our university is at creating adequate structural, political and disciplinary measures to ensure students with disabilities are supported and considered.
As it has already been pointed out by heaps of angry voices—from Access Sussex, to students with disabilities to student union reps— the university has failed students with disabilities in massive ways. Not only are the original structural designs from the 60s outdated and deeply flawed but the university seems to have disregarded any substantial attempt to amend these issues over the years.
And even though we can’t change the fact that ableism is embedded in the mortar of the buildings and in the cracks of the cement, it is not too late for the university to take immediate action to bring about change.
As someone with vast amounts of able-bodied privilege, I had not thought much of how inaccessible Sussex’s campus was until recently. Just like our managerial staff, I had neglected to take into account how thoroughly this campus’ structural oppression affects students with disabilities.
And this realization is quite shallow considering it only stemmed from a one-hour walk around campus, which is nothing compared to living with a permanent and sustained disability.
From curbs to strip lighting, sussex seems to send the bright, lucid message that they do not consider the lived experiences of students with disabilities in their decision-making process. If they do, it is an afterthought and usually takes the form of a haphazard and badly formatted word document slapped on a door.
I think that until students with disabilities can move, access and learn within the same spaces able-bodied students can, we should continue to make noise, show dissatisfaction with our university and support campaigns like Access Sussex in their struggle. Until something changes, I will stay angry and maybe look into getting shirts that say “sussex is inaccessible and gross and uncool”. * ‘sussex’ and ‘university’ have been written in lowercase in order to delegitimize their position.
In response to previous claims made by this newspaper before Easter about obstacles that disabled people face on campus, the University said, “The University’s strategic plan places equal opportunities at the heart of all we do. We take our equality and diversity commitments very seriously and have a number of forums and committees.”