Most know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month due to the rosy hue that overtakes our surroundings in order to raise awareness. However, October is also Disability Awareness Month.
Ferris prides itself on its diversity and inclusion of all walks of life, so of course several events were scheduled throughout the month to raise awareness and get students talking about disabilities. Well Ferris, that’s exactly what I intend to do, so listen up.
You see, the irony of the situation I found myself in was that I only became aware of Disability Awareness Month when I saw a posted newsletter on my way into the Torch office.
For those of you that don’t know, the Torch office is located in the basement of the Alumni Building—the very same basement that lacks access ramps or an elevator for those unable to descend stairs. Are you noticing the problem yet?
The goal of our newspaper is to serve as the voice of the Ferris State campus. How are we to do that when a portion of our campus cannot physically reach our location?
This was a major concern for us in May of last year, when the university forcibly relocated us across campus.
After quickly noting that the basement space was unviable due to the lack of access ramps, we informed the university that their lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 made the basement space a deal breaker, but our concerns were overlooked.
The illusion of choice that was offered to the Torch was not only disrespectful, but was just the tip of the iceberg of a more unsettling problem.
ADA is 25 years old this year, and yet there are still at least two buildings on campus—the other being the third floor of Johnson Hall—that have no means of accessibility for wheelchair-bound individuals.
Of course, the university has also made some strides in accessibility, which is the case in buildings like the University Center, the Timme Center and FLITE. Entrances on multiple floors, automatic doors and an elevator system to allow for convenient vertical mobility for students and visitors alike.
However, the newly built architectural beauty is not the place for skirting around federal acts.
The discrimination occurs in the recesses of Ferris State University such as the basement of its oldest building.
Julie Alexander, a Ferris education counselor and one of the organizers of the Disability Awareness Month events acknowledged the accessibility issues, but admitted that there was not much that Ferris could do to resolve the problem.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot that we can do short of totally renovating or tearing down the building. Alumni is one of the buildings with a lot of historical significance, so that’s not something people want to see go,” Alexander said.
With the additional $18.6 million that Ferris was recently refunded after an accounting error, one could wonder whether Ferris planned to apply any of the refund to addressing accessibility issues.
However, Alexander stated that there was not a plan in the works to renovate the Alumni basement, and it would remain inaccessible for those that can’t use the staircases.
It seems that Ferris is attempting to do all it can to educate, accommodate and offer resources to its students facing disabilities, but its missing a fundamental step in the process.
The slogan posted on the newsletter I spotted hanging in the Alumni Building reads, “Disability rights are civil rights.” Until every floor of every building on Ferris State’s campus is accessible to the disabled, those civil rights are being violated.