This weather sucks. I am over the snow, the cold and, most of all, the everyday struggle to walk to class by climbing massive snow piles and skating across the glaciers that used to be sidewalks. We have all experienced the massive slush lakes that appear at almost every intersection, promising to soak our boots all the way through.
But what if you could not jump over the obstacle? What if, instead of two legs, you depended upon two wheels to get from class to class? The inconvenience of a puddle could turn into an extensive detour.
According to Hannah Buck, diversity chair of the Associated Students of Madison, ?it can take some students [with mobility impairments] up to two hours to make a 15-minute trip because they have to alter their routes due to poorly cleared sidewalks.?
It is hard to fathom how a 15-minute trip could suddenly transform into a two-hour ordeal, but, as you walk to class today, look at the sidewalks, especially the crosswalks and intersections. Could a wheelchair plow through the trenches created by the pedestrian traffic? Would someone have to attempt to cross elsewhere? Probably.
Although the University of Wisconsin Physical Plant offers a snow-removal service for those with mobility impairments, I have yet to see many clear sidewalks. According to Physical Plant Central Answering and Response, a person may ?request that a pedestrian route be cleared of snow and ice in order to facilitate movement from one building to another.? However, there are several restrictions. The service is not available on weekends or holidays. Last time I checked, it can still snow on Saturdays, Sundays or Christmas. The service that supposedly aids those with mobility impairments does not offer consistent assistance, regardless of changes in weather conditions.
If a physically disabled person cannot use the campus? sidewalks, Madison offers an alternative.
Madison Metro offers paratransit service as an accommodation for those with mobility handicaps. Although this service is offered at no charge to UW students, it is laden with restrictions.
A student must complete and submit an application for the paratransit service. In the process of filling out this application, he or she must determine the category of service to which he or she belongs.
According to City of Madison Eligibility Standards, a person classified as a Category 1 is ?any individual with a disability, who is unable to board, ride or disembark from any accessible vehicle on a fixed-route system without the assistance of another individual.?
A Category 2 person, on the other hand, is an individual who utilizes a wheelchair for mobility but can board any vehicle with limited assistance. A person within Category 2 is unlikely to receive a permit for paratransit service because he or she can ?easily? board a regular Metro bus. What if it becomes impossible for a person in a wheelchair to reach a Metro bus stop or what if a bus is packed? Although paratransit does allow those within
Category 2 to apply for temporary access to the service, this does not solve the problem.
The city of Madison has disregarded the needs of an important demographic. If the snow-clearing and paratransit services are not available in all circumstances, what are these students, faculty members, staff and citizens of Madison to do?
A student should not feel abandoned by the university due to his or her mobility constraints. It is time that the university invested in its students. In order to create a more diverse campus, Madison and the university must deliver on its services, especially those which affect the day-to-day lives of those on campus.
Hannah Karns ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and international studies.