Last Friday afternoon, the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) asked the campus to consider the question, “Is Our Campus Accessible?” in their forum on ableism.
“[CODA] has been putting a lot of emphasis on education of ourselves and the community pertaining to diversity issues on campus and we felt there was a lack of attention to ableism and disabilities,” junior and CODA chair Shea Love said.
Ableism is a form of discrimination or prejudice against those with disabilities, both physical and mental.
“Ableism addresses a society that is created for people who are able-bodied that ignores or downplays the needs of those who are not,” junior and CODA member India Waller said.
CODA focused this forum on the Lawrence campus, where accessibility issues often pass under the radar.
“Just recently I’ve gotten involved with accessibility issues,” said junior CODA member Nicole Cardarella, who uses a scooter to get around campus. “I’ve gotten frustrated enough to get informed, and I want to inform the campus about accessibility.”
The forum opened with short presentations by Cardarella and Joe Martin, Appleton’s fourth-district alderman, who represents Lawrence and uses a wheelchair for mobility.
“I partake in a lots of what’s going on at Lawrence,” Martin said. “Lawrence isn’t set up for disabled access. It’s hard to get to a lot of sporting events, or be comfortable in the chapel.”
Cardarella shared her experience of her three years at Lawrence and unique problems for people using motorized vehicles on campus.
“Nothing overt happens,” Cardarella said. “It’s implicit things, like not being able to get into half the buildings on campus, or door buttons not working. The little things build up on each other.”
Students, staff, and faculty members heard about the disabled perspective on campus, then broke into small discussion groups with CODA facilitators. The event structure was reminiscent of CODA’s last forum on race issues on campus, a design CODA uses to engage audiences.
“This year, CODA’s focus shifted a lot,” Love said. “There needs to be more action about diversity issues on campus, and action doesn’t come from going to view an event. The community needs to participate in an event because the solutions come from inside the community.”
This was CODA’s first forum on ableism and they hope this event will start a conversation on campus.
“I want to get the word out about ableism, and to share with students how to approach someone with a disability,” Cardarella said.
At the forum, the speakers shared that even something as simple as getting down to the same level as someone in a wheelchair when speaking with them can make a difference.
“I even was talking to Joe before the forum and didn’t know whether I should kneel down or not — I was so glad he said that,” Love said. “That’s the point of a forum. To give people small, tangible things to work through and live out next time they’re working with that type of person.”
Students interested in getting involved with CODA can email Love. CODA is spending the rest of the year planning next year’s events.
“I hope people keep coming to these forums,” Waller said. “It’s exciting to see people interested in issues of diversity and social justice.”