Op-Ed: Lafayette’s ableism runs deeper than ramps

Lafayette College has egregiously failed its student body. According to a campus accessibility review done in 2014, while most buildings abide by the criteria set forth by the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), none meet the 2010 ADA standard. However, the fundamental issue at hand is Lafayette’s facile understanding of disability; their (in)actions tell us they believe that the extent of ableism on this campus is simply inaccessible buildings. This approach to disability and the suffocating lack of discourse that surrounds it functions to create an environment that, at best, leaves disableist perspectives unchallenged and, at worst, festers them. Thus, this op-ed functions to address what the college has neglected to do: provide the student body with a meaningful discussion of disability, disability prejudice and how to address it.

When it comes to defining disability, it is important to understand that there is no one true definition. Nario-Redmond explains how the conditions for who qualifies as disabled change based on the source, setting and historical time period. This variability highlights the social construction of disability, it is society that disables people with impairments, not their conditions. Within the social model of disability, impairment is defined as a missing or defective limb, organ or mechanism of the body while disability is defined as the disadvantage or restrictions imposed on individuals by the systems and settings that they inhabit. While the college’s marvelously slow renovations to make buildings more accessible address impairments, it neglects disability. To address disability, we must unearth these skyscrapers’ foundations, not simply give them ramps: disability refers to the disablist system as a whole. By failing to discuss disability in any meaningful and critical way, the college is creating an accessible space for people with disabilities to experience prejudice. Further, it perpetuates the collectivist idea that addressing disability – and disablism – is an inconvenience rather than a necessity.

Disability prejudice, as Colombo-Dougovito and Dillon point out, is a permissible form of prejudice. Our society finds a way to label prejudice, discrimination and hatred of disabled people as somehow natural. It is imperative that we call out instances of disablism: Pardee and its ostensibly “accessible” bathroom except for its ridiculously heavy building doors, their “accessible” door that doesn’t work the way they intended and the “accessible” bathroom’s stalls not being big enough to accommodate a wheelchair user; a total of ten accessible dorms, most of which are downhill; students unable to access their classes because the school shut down ramps without notice; a friend of mine, a junior at this college, telling me that he would rather die than be disabled. Nondisabled folks need to understand that our perspectives on the livelihood, the satisfaction, the worth of a disabled body are value-laden.