Middlebury is failing its students with disabilities and injuries



I’m sobbing, furiously wiping tears from my eyes with the back of my sleeve as I push myself  on a KneeRover scooter in a mad dash to make my orthopedics appointment. I slip and slide, desperately trying to maintain traction on the sidewalk covered in a thin layer of icy slush, clutching my mini handbrake fully against the handlebars as the scooter rockets down the College Street hill towards town. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the bus pull out of the stop. I’ve missed my appointment. 

Thirty minutes before, I had called PubSafe, confident that they could give me a ride to my appointment just as they’d taken me to the hospital after my initial injury. They could not.

Since I hurt my foot three days before, navigating Middlebury had become a nightmare. The daily frustrations started at night, when unsteady and scared of falling on my crutches, I crawled on all fours up the two flights of stairs to my room on the third floor of Allen Hall, trying to ignore the pain of the built-up bruises on my knees. Leaving my building the next morning, I faced one of the many doors on campus with a decorative “Caution Automatic Door” sticker and a handicapped button that didn’t function. 

That day, getting around campus had been particularly difficult. The thick flakes of falling snow and accumulation of slippery slush made the campus practically impossible to navigate. Trying to reach my classes in Warner and the Johnson Memorial Building class in Warner’s hemi, I desperately gripped the icy railing as I hoped up the stairs, swallowing my fear of falling down the rock slabs. 

Luckily, everyone around me had bent over backwards to help me in those three days and beyond. A classmate who I barely knew refused any sort of payment and let me borrow his KneeRover for free. People I’d never spoken to before carried the scooter up and down stairs at my request, hurried past me to open doors and asked if I needed help as I maneuvered around the dining halls. I am so grateful for the incredible support of the Middlebury community. 

However, a system that relies on luck, the goodwill of others, social connections and the ability and comfort level to constantly advocate for oneself is not a functioning system. Middlebury is not a functioning institution for people with temporary disabilities. It is certainly not for those with permanent mobility constraints. 

Slowly renovating Munroe, then Warner, then every single non-ADA-compliant building on campus (and trust me, there are many) is not enough. Middlebury needs an institutional support system that is actively advertised so that when students injure themselves, they know who they can reach out to and how they can get help. For the buildings that clearly fail ADA requirements, the college needs to create ways to make them more accessible while they wait for the opportunity to redo them. Where they do have structures meant to increase accessibility such as automatic doors, they should at least work. 

The kindness and generosity of the Middlebury community is wonderful, but it’s a band-aid solution for a problem that requires institutional change.

Sophia McDermott-Hughes is a member of the class of 2023.