Editor’s Note: For students with disabilities, getting to class can be a hurdle, especially when the school campus spans dramatic elevation changes. As part of our first-person series called Vital Signs, this month we explore how the environment affects health. UC Santa Cruz senior, Ariana Rojas talks about her experience navigating her unique campus. A car accident when she was younger left her with arthritis and chronic pain that limit her ability to climb stairs and even to walk without pain.
By Ariana Rojas
Imagine a lot of buildings in the middle of the forest. And like the mountains, there’s uphills and downhills and those hills can get very steep.
Freshman year, I would force myself to get up in the morning. [I would say to myself,] ‘Go, let’s go. You can do it. We can walk up these hills.’
When I would reach the very end, I would be in terrible pain.
I couldn’t bear the idea of relying on the Disability Van Service on campus. It just wasn’t helping me out. At times, I would find myself having to wait an additional 15 minutes into my class. [I would think to myself,] ‘Okay, I’m late. I’m late.’ You don’t feel independent.
I’ve been driving to campus these last two years. And if I don’t have to come to campus, I won’t.
Walking down stairs becomes a challenge and I’d rather not feel less of a person. Every time I come to campus, I get reminded that I have a physical disability.
I realized there were a lot of students going through the same problems that I was. My friend couldn’t get in her class using her wheelchair because the ramp ended with a step.
I’m president of Disability Alliance, a school club. We’re looking into automatic switch buttons: To get switches in doors that will open the door automatically. In our campus, there are many classrooms that lack these.
Rojas walks over to a bathroom on campus and presses her hands against the door:
So, I’m pushing really hard on the door. It’s supposed to be really easy but it’s not. It’s not. It’s really hard [because of] the air draft.
It’s the handicapped bathroom. And it’s supposed to be accessible but it doesn’t have the button to help you with the door. So, this becomes a struggle for someone in a wheelchair.
These problems are our problems now. This is what’s going on now. But these problems will become someone else problems. Prospective students that do decide to come here, this will be their reality. This will be what they’re having to deal with.
This story was reported by Ryder Diaz.