Against Mandatory Accessibility at New Dorms

By Guest Contributor

Four years ago as a sophomore enjoying my first summer at Middlebury, I would also have another first — giving my first accessible tour. Up to this point during my career at admissions, and in the three subsequent years I spent working there, not once did I tour an individual in a wheelchair or see a disabled individual at the admissions office. This tour would teach me one thing: Middlebury itself is inaccessible. The scenery we all have come to enjoy during our time, the rolling hills, the beautiful forests, the stunning snow, all make for an incredibly beautiful but dangerous place for an individual with disabilities.

A typical Middlebury tour is about 45 minutes, although, if prospective students really want to go to the CFA, tours can last about an hour. Almost every location had an issue with accessibility, whether that meant a single accessible entrance at the other side of the building from the tour entrance or a steep hill in between buildings. All in all, these problems made this accessible tour take much longer than average; after an hour and a half, we still had not finished the tour. And all of this was on a bright, beautiful, sunny day. Imagine if there was a foot of snow on the ground—as there is four months out of a typical Middlebury school year. It would have been absolutely impossible to get around in a wheelchair.

Now to the project at hand. Let’s say student petitions win and Middlebury spends a few million dollars on accessible entrances for the new residence halls. Who really benefits? Even if we did have a student in a wheelchair (which is already highly unlikely), he or she would avoid a residence hall in Ridgeline like the plague because of the hill he or she would need to climb or go down in ice or snow. Now I want to make it clear, I do not underestimate the skill or determination of a disabled student. If he or she wanted, he or she could navigate our campus. But think of that frigid day in J-term with three feet of snow on the ground and a layer of black ice on the paths. Even the most graceful athletes stumble. Middlebury, even if every building had the highest accessibility rating, would be an extremely difficult environment to navigate because of the weather and terrain.

It’s unrealistic to think that by building an accessible entrance at these locations, we would solve Middlebury’s accessibility problem. In fact, all you end up doing is spending money that could otherwise be spent on student activities, scholarships and staff salaries on an entrance that will seldom be utilized. Though increasing accessibility is a fight we should always have in our country, (I do every day, fighting the MTA for more accessible subway stations) it isn’t the fight we should be having at Middlebury. Instead you should spend your time on a cause that can have a real impact on our school like increasing diversity, both socio-economic and racial. Don’t just pick up a fight to allow you to pat yourself on the back and say you fought for change when all the problems still remain.

Lucas Acosta ’14