Section: Opinion

On accessibility, barriers and compassion

Student struggled to receive accommodations for her disability.

Several weeks ago, before the tumultuous final events of this election cycle, I injured my knee and needed a powered wheelchair to get around. I have cerebral palsy, so crutches weren’t an option. I tried walking around with a walker as best I could, but eventually it became clear my injury would continue to worsen unless I could use a chair.
Erin Salva, the director of Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS), informed me that the College had one powered wheelchair that elderly visitors could use when they came to Kenyon. She could ask to borrow it for me, she said, but only if it wasn’t in use. I asked if the College could rent a scooter for me if the chair was unavailable, but she said she didn’t think her office could.
I now know we misunderstood each other: Erin hadn’t known it was possible to rent mobility devices. At the time, it seemed to me like the College wouldn’t obtain a second scooter since mobility devices are classified as medical equipment, for which the onus to buy is on individuals who need them. Waiting to hear back about the College-owned chair, I felt humiliated by the callous nature of how I may or may not be accommodated. The sequence of events up to then had made my safety seem contingent on the convenience of others.
I recounted these difficulties on Facebook because I’ve often found social media to be an excellent platform for informing my friends about disability-related issues. I wanted others to know what was happening. What followed was an outpouring of support. People I only knew as acquaintances shared in my frustration. Ten wonderful friends — Wesley Davies ’17, Reagan Neviska ’17, Amy Sheahan ’17, Katherine King ’17, Hayley Yussman ’18, Lauren Michael ’17, Katie Hardiman ’15, Yoobin Han ’18, Muhammed Hansrod ’18 and Justin Martin ‘19 — wrote eloquent letters to SASS, imploring them to allow me to use the College’s wheelchair. By the time I received the good news that the chair was available, my heart was so full. I felt loved and protected in indescribable ways.
These upcoming weeks and months may be disheartening to many due to Trump’s election. People with marginalized identities are afraid, and rightly so, due to the national rise in hate crimes and discriminatory harassment after the election. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about structural barriers on campus: We may always have too many staircases and not enough elevators. However, the invisible barriers formed by others’ attitudes and beliefs can be just as restrictive.
I’ve been repeatedly told I enjoy special treatment on account of my disability, when the only benefit that accommodations give me is an equal chance to succeed. I haven’t been able to withstand these barriers on my own because, when left alone with memories of such criticisms, I have succumbed to anxiety and helplessness. Being in communion with my friends and other loved ones allows me to share my burdens and experiences. I wish I could offer clever aphorisms or silver-bullet plans for how we can move forward in protecting each other’s rights, but I can only say that the first step is to name your challenges, to hear and to be heard.
For me, taking this first step brought me compassion, comfort and, ultimately, hope for a future Justin Martin ’19 describes, in which “the Class of 2025 or 2030 sees having only a few disabled people at a college as just as laughable as a college with two women or two people of color.”
Lin Miao ’17 is a psychology major from Willoughby, Ohio. Contact her at


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