Handicapped at College

T4322On crutches after a recent bicycle mishap, I’m getting a sense of what it’s like to be handicapped at college. Everything takes longer, it’s hard to get from one event to another on time, and you have to depend on other people. That last inconvenience, dependence on others, can be a blessing. Here at Berkshire Community College (where I’m spending part of my sabbatical)  I’m finding the kindness of others a source of much comfort and joy. When I arrived the first day on crutches, a student, already late for an appointment, took the time to help me up the banks of stairs from the parking lot and carried all my stuff for me. Security promptly provided me with more convenient handicap parking. My third example is one that few schools could match: as I stood in line at breakfast, wondering how I would get my tray to a table, President Ellen Kennedy appeared on her way to an appointment and carried my tray to my table for me.

The other side of the blessing is learning to accept help from others. I’ve always liked being independent and rarely asked for help or accepted offers of help. Now I’m learning to enjoy it. It even seems to make the helper happy.

Because my mishap occurred the day before classes started, I was wondering how I’d get through my first day of classes at a new place. The students have been great. I had arranged to pick up coffee for the class; one of the first students to arrive (Aaron) gamely went to get it. When I realized I had left the syllabi in my office, another student (Yvette) went to get them. A third student (Jeremy) took me to lunch afterwards, carrying my stuff and bringing my food to the table.

So I guess the main message is that disability on campus is like everything else in life: an opportunity to live and work with others. I especially admire those with long-term disabilities. True, good facilities help. Elevators are great, and I love the doors that open automatically. Convenient bathrooms and water fountains become treasured luxuries. Yet the facility I’ve come to appreciate most is good signage. When you’re on crutches you hate to discover that you’ve just struggled down the wrong staircase or hobbled at length in the wrong direction. I’ve come to treasure all the handicap signs around campus I hardly noticed before.

A few days ago I sat sadly on my front porch, waiting for someone to come by whom I could ask to load my car. Now I’m starting to enjoy such activities.


  1. Sandra Ketcham:

    I have often heard students with disabilities or some short term physical handicap explain their difficulty is maneuvering about, not only on campus but everywhere.

    Another side of physical handicap is the one that doesn’t show…I can only compare the experiences I have had with being “deaf” or extremely hearing impaired. As a student at BCC, MCLA, and SUNYA I sat in the front row to read lips (when professors lectured facing class). As a mathematics major I found many professors spoke to the blackboard as they lectured often for the entire class time.

    Being proud I never asked for help (or “accommodations”) as the students do nowadays (yes I am probably older than you). Once in a while sheer frustration would drive me to ask a prof to explain to me, one on one, a concept or my arithmetical error.

    Another frustrating experience I had was when someone (a cohort) told me I need to “learn to listen better”. That’s like telling a blind person to watch where s/he is going!!!

    I guess it is easy when students, faculty and administrators “see” a person with a handicap leading him/her to the aid of the person. It is quite another when the very same people are quick to jump on the bandwagon of “I don’t try hard enough” … As if I am “normal”.

  2. Musa King:

    i was on crutches for a semester at college and it made me realize how universities are not friendly to the needs of the disabled, basic things like going to one lecture to another are a pain