Campus structure can cause problems for students with disabilities
A heavy metal door swings open as a man hurries through it. The door then proceeds to close, trapping a petite brunette in a motorized wheelchair between it and the door jamb.
Unable to open the door, University College freshman Carissa Karr decided this was the final straw.
Karr, from Durant, had a stroke at birth and has cerebral palsy. The disorder, which affects the part of her brain that controls her muscles, has left her with limited mobility in her left arm. Though Karr can walk short distances, she suffers muscle spasms that often require her to use a wheelchair, which in turn causes her grief when trying to navigate the OU campus.
“On the first couple of days of school, the bookstore had the stand-ins up, and I couldn’t get my wheel chair through,” Karr said. “I had to go all the way back to the dorms to get my car because I can’t walk the whole distance to the bookstore.”
The OU Disability Resource Center offers a campus accessibility map on its website, but temporary barricades or construction can go unmentioned.
The director of the center, Suzette Dyer, was contacted at her home and declined to comment.
Karr’s wheelchair is sometimes more than a minor inconvenience — it can be a hazard in the case of an emergency.
“All of the wheelchair-accessible rooms are on the second floor of Adams Center,” Karr said. “It doesn’t make sense because if there is a fire, how am I supposed to get out?”
Though OU has an emergency evacuation policy for students with disabilities that implements a buddy-system of sorts, Karr was never notified of what to do in the event of an emergency.
“My mom asked what was going to happen in a fire, and they didn’t give me an answer,” Karr said.
Though Karr has had many negative experiences, Candace Clark, the Association of Disabled Students president, said she greatly benefits from the Disability Resource Center.
Clark, management information systems senior, has double vision, dyslexia and divergence and convergence. Her disability causes eye strain and headaches, both of which affect her performance in class. Luckily, OU has been able to help her succeed in class.
“Because of my disability, I can have extra time on my tests, and I’ve been able to have people take notes for me when I couldn’t see the board,” Clark said. “I get really tired really fast because I have to work twice as hard to see as other people. They helped me fix my schedule so I don’t get as tired and get headaches.”
Along with physical dilemmas, students with disabilities such as Karr often face awkward social situations.
“I don’t get talked to a lot,” Karr said. “People are ignorant to if I have a just a physical handicap or a mental disability and are scared. They just don’t know what to do in the situation. I have a bubbly personality, so it wasn’t a problem in high school, but now I’m a little bit unsure and nervous to talk to people.”
Clark encourages students like Karr who are experiencing issues making social connections and reach out to the student association for support.
“When I was growing up, I hated people saying I had a disability and didn’t want people to know,” Clark said. “When you have a disability, you don’t think of yourself as a person with a disability; you’re just the same as everyone else. We want students to do the best at the university as they can.”
Karr also aspires to help other students who are feeling the same frustrations as she is.
“All this school has made me want to do is help people who didn’t get help, like me,” Karr said. “Some people can’t explain what they need, like I can. I want to be the person that speaks out.”