Winter threatens campus disability access

Jorge Espinoza

Lyn Huff said they were on a trampoline when they shattered their ankle.

“I broke every bone in that area, and they had to put it back together using a screw,” Huff said. “A screw is the only reason my ankle can work, but it’s also not natural. My body hates it.”

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With winter settling in, students with physical disabilities face more challenges than their able-bodied peers.

For disabled students like Huff, a third-year studying history, the winter can make it harder for them to navigate campus.

“I’m physically disabled,” Huff said. “I have chronic pain in my ankle and my shoulder, and some days when it’s cold I have to use a cane in order to walk.”  

In an email to The Collegian, Rosemary Kreston, director of the Student Disability Center, said the snow causes many of the challenges that students with disabilities face.

The biggest challenge for students who use wheelchairs or who have other mobility limitations is basically the same challenge anyone has on campus, the snow,” Kreston wrote.  “However, for students using wheelchairs or who have difficulty walking, it is particularly important that the walks are cleared, ramps are cleared and curb cuts are cleared, with no ice accumulation.”

Kreston wrote that with a campus of this size it can be very hard to manage snow clean up. She wrote that when snow is moved with vehicles, they push it to the curb which can become an obstacle for people in wheelchairs or with mobility limitations.

“The average ambulatory person can usually step over piles of snow at the curb or in parking lots, but not someone in a wheelchair or who has difficulty walking,” Kreston wrote.

Huff said the winter is particularly hard for them because it makes their chronic pain more obvious.

“The beginning of winter is always the hardest for me because I can feel it in my ankle especially,” Huff said. “In the morning I can feel it like crazy. It doesn’t hurt so much as it’s just present and obvious. Winter is definitely harder.”

Because of the pain present for Huff during the winter, their daily routine becomes longer.

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“It always takes me longer to do things when it’s cold because I have to wake up and be in a little more pain than usual,” Huff said. “And then I can start doing things.”

Huff said winter conditions force them to find alternative ways to get around weather conditions which also adds time to how long it takes them to get around.

Huff explained that in order to get around campus safely, they must be sure that there aren’t any icy or particularly slippery patches so they don’t get hurt, adding time to their commute. 

Huff said ice is one of the main problems that the winter presents.

“I hate the ice. My cane has zero traction and so when it slips on the ice, I end up stumbling and trying to find myself, it’s kind of the worst,” Huff said.

Kreston wrote that facilities management does a good job of clearing snow, but since it can snow at any time of the day it can be hard to maintain clear walkways.

“Facilities does a decent job in clearing snow across campus,” Kreston wrote. “I do not know, however, if they have a large enough crew to cover all the curb cuts, ramps and other areas that need clearing for those who use wheelchairs or have other mobility limitations in a timely manner.”

Huff said that they have already fallen this winter because of snowy conditions.

“There was actually a huge pile of snow outside Laurel Village that I had slipped on the first day it snowed,” Huff said. “But, they got around to cleaning it pretty quickly.”

Kreston wrote that snowfall during the day and the evening can cause problems for disabled students if not cleaned up fast enough.

“Timely does not only mean in the morning,” Kreston wrote. “When it snows during the day or in the evening and students are on campus, they may not have a good way of getting home even if the snow removal is in process.”

Students with disabilities can use Ram Around the Horn to get around since it is wheelchair accessible. However, Kreston wrote that once they are dropped off to where they need to be, students with disabilities might still struggle to get where they need to go.  

“While getting from place to place might be possible, a student using a wheelchair or with other mobility limitations might not be able to get around once they get to that other place,” Kreston wrote.

Kreston wrote that Colorado State University can support disabled students by recognizing the ways that the winter can prevent them from showing up to class.

“Another way CSU can support students is to have faculty recognize that some weather conditions might be too difficult for students using wheelchairs or who have other mobility limitations to get to class,” Kreston wrote. “Therefore, it might be helpful if they were not ‘docked’ for missing a class due to the weather and to have some options available to get the information they may miss in a class.” 

Jorge Espinoza can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @jorgespinoza14.