AN ALTERNATE PERSPECTIVE
Last Updated on Monday, 11 November 2013 03:03
A personal account addressing accessibility on campus
My name is Roque Renteria and I am a quadriplegic. I experience life in a perpetual state of sitting (one of Einstein’s unacknowledged Laws of Relativity). It’s difficult to articulate what it’s like to live with a damaged spinal cord. When random people come up to me and ask, “What’s it like being in a wheelchair?” it is a hard question for me, or anyone with a disability, to answer. It’s a personal question, and I feel I can only answer it with a joke: “Imagine that you are super-glued to your school desk for the rest of your life and had to get around by dragging the desk. It’s nothing like that,” or, “It’s like getting used to an old shoe, I think. If I could remember what shoes felt like.” These responses usually result in the asker feeling uncomfortable or confused, thereby avoiding any other type of personal questions. They laugh nervously or quite possibly sincerely (honestly, it is impossible to tell sometimes) and continue on with a much lighter question. Asking about the weather is not uncommon.
As I matured, I realized the reason people ask these questions is because they are uninformed and eager to learn about the unknown topics not talked about openly. In my experience, disability is not something that is usually openly discussed. People don’t know how to approach the subject. I can’t blame them. I was once like they were. The main difference is that I was put into this position when I was 14, so I didn’t have much of a choice. I had to inform myself. That said, the Union decided to publish my personal experiences as a disabled student in hopes that it will help freshmen with disabilities as well as all other inquiring students try to find their way at Long Beach State. This includes daily obstacles that I confront, my interactions with my peers, and the resources that I have utilized in order to make my collegiate experience as pleasant as it can be. I must note that this account is a personal one, and these opinions do not reflect the views of beliefs of any other students with disabilities on campus. My only goal is to provide the readership with an insight into my perspective. A typical school day in the life of Roque Renteria: college student at CSULB.
Disability covers a wide range of classifications.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which sets the guidelines for accessibility in public facilities, disability is defined in three ways: “(1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) a record of such an impairment; OR (3) regarded as having such an impairment.” The ADA goes on to define a physical impairment as “any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.” The spinal cord injury that I sustained has more or less affected each one of these systems. Therefore, the ADA must do what it can to accommodate any limitations created by publicly-owned land, i.e. the CSULB campus.
As far as my needs go, allow me to clarify any potential misconceptions about quadriplegia. Quadriplegia is paralysis of all four extremities. This does not necessarily mean that a quadriplegic does not have control of any of their limbs. It only means that their limbs have been affected by paralysis. In my case, I sustained damage to my C-5 and C-6 spinal vertebrae. With the exception of some other functions, this means that most of my movement has been limited to my head, neck, shoulders, and biceps. Despite these physical hindrances, I am able to propel a manual chair as opposed to an electric one. Pushing a manual chair offers a certain kind of independence and freedom, but also comes with its own unique set of challenges. The most prominent challenge being the constant battles with inclines and steep slopes. Before I begin with getting around campus, here is a note: Parking is everything. You can’t always predict how busy the pathways will be, but one thing you can be sure about is the parking lot probably won’t move. That is why if you are a disabled student with a disabled placard, visit Disable Student Services to see if you are eligible for a parking pass.
California State University Long Beach has a student population of about 35,000 students. This makes it one of the largest campuses in the state of California and adds a level of complication when attempting to maneuver across campus. As a liberal arts major, I often find myself taking classes in the LA buildings. When the campus is deserted, there is little to no challenge getting to class. An occasional steep incline, but nothing that can’t be circumvented. For instance, the slope located between the psychology building and the math department. I usually take the more level pathway located on the other side of the math department and turn right in order to reach the LA buildings. The same goes for the incline located to the right of the history building. However, when one of my classes ends, I have about 15 minutes to get to class, and the large student body has to head in both the same and opposite directions, so navigating can be a problem. When class ends and thousands of students are walking past me, I feel like a fish trying to swim upstream. It’s rare that I crash into people, but occasional bumps, nudges, and love taps do happen. Apologies are exchanged, but it’s an inconvenience that one must deal with. It’s like that, that’s the way it is.
For most students on campus (or as I call them “Walkers.” What can I say? I’m a fan of The Walking Dead), Cal State Long Beach seems like any other urban campus. But to the man pushing his chair across campus on a daily basis, Cal State Long Beach can sometimes be a concrete jungle. There are some nearly unavoidable inclines that I find unmanageable, the most notorious being the ramp into the USU by the food court. I have had several encounters with this Goliath of a ramp, and I’ve tried many different approaches in order to surmount it.
One technique I have developed is pushing diagonally in order to reposition my weight. If I take the ramp head-on and charge it like Don Quixote (I guess that makes my wheelchair Rocinante) charges a windmill, there’s a chance that the steepness will make my chair lean back. By pushing alongside my new line, I can challenge the force of gravity. The only problem is that I must avoid facing the direction that I’m going. It sounds complicated, but it’s basic physics. You don’t acquire problem-solving skills like this in class, you learn them on the streets. Literally.
Once I surmount the slope, getting into the USU fourth floor is no hassle. There are door openers located on the wall. The door openers are a deliverance. Trying to hold open a door while an influx of rushing students flow through is no easy task. Nor is it pretty. Luckily, most buildings on campus have this feature, which I truly appreciate. And I assume others appreciate this too, as I do not levee the flood of scholars. The torrent of academia continues to flow smoothly and undisturbed.
Another problem I encounter is whether or not the elevator in the USU functions. At the time of this writing, only one elevator seems to be operational. There have been times when both elevators have been out of service. This becomes a serious problem, because I then have to take an alternate route. One that is not the most appealing.
If I need to make my way to Brotman Hall from the from the southern part of campus and the USU elevator is out, I take a detour. Located on the side of The Nugget there is a route that takes you into the loading area. From there, I traverse the parking lot and avoid the huge trucks loading and unloading. Eventually I slide down one of the ramps and I’m back on track to Brotman Hall. At times, I appreciate the irony of how resourceful I have to be in order to make it to Disabled Student Services. And other times I can be bitter. Allow me to explain.
I know I can be a cynic at times. I blame Dostoevsky for vindicating narcissism. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes I get upset when I see able-bodied students (and in some cases professors) using elevators for one floor. Now, I’m no arbiter of justice (maybe an arbiter elegantiae), but it pains me to see people who are physically unable to climb a flight of stairs have to wait and possibly be late to class or their appointments because some person refused to move their legs in for an additional fifteen seconds. I understand that most people are courteous and respectful; I just wanted to acknowledge the ill will of some people.
On the other hand, I have encountered numerous people who have gone out of their ways to accommodate me. These are people who have pushed me across campus when it rained or helped me get across a grassy area when roads were being repaired. Some people once offered to carry me and my chair over a small series of steps. It is selfless acts like these that have made my time here at Long Beach State a pleasant one. Not only that, the constant kindness has restored my faith in humanity as a whole.
I urge and implore any student who may have any kind of disability, and who hasn’t already, to visit Disabled Student Services located in Brotman Hall in room 270. Their hours are 8am to 7pm Monday through Thursday and 8am through 5am on Fridays. Walk or roll in and tell the staff that you are a student who suffers from some kind of disability and would like to know which resources are available to ease the situation. Talk to the support service coordinator, Peter Pervix. Tell him, “Roque Renteria sent me.” Once he is done pretending to not know who I am, he will get you squared away with anything you may need.
After you have completed their evaluation, they will provide you with the necessary accommodations. DSS can provide students with the following services: registration assistance, notetakers, advising, interpreters, test taking services, campus and agency liaisons, accessible/medical parking, and many other services not listed. And for those students with learning disabilities, there is the Steven Benson program. Also, check out the AIM Center located in the AS building, near the Beach Hut in room 116. They can provide you with accessible textbooks and access to any computer program you may need for your coursework. Velma Martin is the AIM coordinator and the sweetest person you’ll meet. Check the AIM Center for all your high tech needs.