By Jennifer Reppert
I am a student at Kutztown University. I am also a student with a disability. Recently, my human exceptionalities class was assigned to spend some time in a wheelchair to learn what it’s like to live with a disability. For me however, this wasn’t the first time I’ve spent time in a wheelchair. In 2005, when I originally started as a student, medical problems made me temporarily disabled and required me to use a wheelchair and crutches. The most disappointing part of this class assignment was realizing that after ten years the campus has made little to no progress in making the campus more handicapped-accessible.
The biggest issue faced by handicapped students today is the lack of parking. Yes, we can all agree that parking on campus is terrible. However, for those of us with a disability it is incredibly frustrating and nonexistent. The general attitude is that because we have a handicapped-parking permit, we can park wherever we want and it is never a problem. The sad reality is that we have no place to park in any parking lot that is near our classes. The only lot I regularly get a parking space in is Lytle. But, unless I have a class in that building, the parking space is useless.
When a brisk walk across campus could be devastating to my health, I am required to drive to and park at all of my classes. The ten minutes given to get from one class to another is hardly ever enough time, as it usually takes me more than ten minutes to find an appropriate parking spot. This then provokes angry remarks and grumpy tones from classmates and professors for being late and interrupting class. KU grossly underestimates the amount of disabled students enrolled, especially those that are required to park within a short walk to the building their class is in.
Having a handicapped-parking permit allows disabled students to park in a handicapped spot, a staff spot (yellow lined) or a student spot (white lined) in any lot. However, on certain days this is not enough. On a recent occasion, when I was trying to park at the Academic Forum, there was not a single parking spot available; not even after driving around all 3 lots for almost 20 minutes and making myself late for class. I then proceeded to park in a “20 minute parking” spot, resulting in a ticket. I have gotten countless tickets and have argued with public safety on more occasions that I can recall, because I was forced to park somewhere I was “not allowed”. I am forced to do this or I have to put my health at risk by parking far away and attempting to make the long walk.
The most frustrating thing is that public safety seems to not care about putting disabled students in these situations. A state-issued permit means you’re allowed park anywhere unauthorized for up to 60 minutes, as long as it doesn’t affect traffic. Yet public safety often tells us that we need to accept the ticket anyway and deal with the appeals process like everyone else.
Additionally, new spots were placed all over campus that state “parking with public safety permit only”. Handicapped students used to have a “public safety” permit, a simple paper permit that stated we could park in any spot due to medical reasons. This school year public safety refused to issue me a permit and stated handicapped permits were enough. They are not enough, and I was ticketed repeatedly. All tickets thus far have been taken off my account, because I shouldn’t be receiving them in the first place, but I still have to take the time to deal with the stressful appeals process.
Society in general can be ignorant of the amount of people living with disabilities. I challenge KU to become aware of these problems and become a part of the solution. Don’t let these problems last another ten years.