The Kansas Reflector welcomes comments from authors who share our goal of broadening the discussion about how public policy affects the daily lives of people in our state. Gloria Freeland, Professor Emeritus of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kansas State University, is a member of the Riley County Historical Society.
Hilary Garrett is a K-state majoring social scientist and the current Ms. Wheelchair Kansas. (Submitted)
Hilary Garrett is like thousands of other students at Kansas State University. But unlike most of the people who don’t worry about getting from here to there, she has to navigate the campus in a wheelchair.
“I couldn’t go to college without the ADA,” Garrett said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which turned 31 last Monday, has helped her and many others live independently.
Garrett, 29, is a K-state majoring social scientist and the current Ms. Wheelchair Kansas. She also works in her parents’ winery.
While living in a dorm on campus, she found it difficult to get to her food center. The doors were difficult to open and there were no windows in them. Without being able to see if anyone was coming from the opposite side or could see her, she was sometimes hit by the heavy doors.
I can make friends on a small scale. In 1997 I had an autoimmune disease that made it impossible for me to breathe, walk, eat, speak, or use my hands. I was hospitalized in three different cities for three months. I used a wheelchair on the way to recovery and I remember getting so frustrated while visiting a grocery store. The doors were difficult to open and the wheels sank into the rubberized carpets at the entrance, making it difficult to move forward.
My experience was temporary as I fully recovered, but Garrett has to deal with these issues every day.
She went to the K-State Student Access Center to voice her concern. The people there acted. Now all the dining room doors have windows and buttons that operate the door opener.
Ethan Brown says he can have normal life experiences because the ADA has removed barriers to his participation. (Submitted)
Ethan Brown, 19, a sophomore student majoring in marketing with a minor in leadership, is another K-state student who uses a wheelchair. He is also the Access Director in the President’s Cabinet for K-State’s Student Government Association.
“I want to remind the audience (while doing the advocacy),” Brown said, “that the community of people with disabilities is the only minority society that anyone can reluctantly join at any time in their life.”
He said he was able to have normal life experiences because the ADA removed barriers to his participation. He lives on campus and has an internship that requires travel, which he was able to do due to ramps, wheelchair assistance, housed ground transportation, and accessible hotel rooms. He also has a specially trained service dog.
The Riley County Historical Museum recently celebrated the opportunity ADA has brought to everyone. His exhibit – “Recognizing Different Abilities in Riley County” – is currently on display at the museum and focuses on how K-State, Manhattan, and the county have made advances toward accessibility and equality. The benefits ADA has brought to Riley County’s citizens are reflected across the state and across the country.
Museum director Cheryl Collins found that even the healthy have benefited.
“For example, when families are pushing strollers, they can easily roll over a sidewalk and cross curbs,” she said. “And I think cyclists have also benefited from curb cuts. So ADA has given us all convenience and easy access to some. “
Jason Maseberg-Tomlinson, director of K-State’s Student Access Center, agreed.
“Today we are still talking about digital curb cuts, measures that help all users,” he said. “An example of this is the caption. Subtitling content provides a better way for everyone to remember information. Having access is important for some people, but it is helpful for many who benefit from seeing and hearing information. “
He said the center is working to help students set up adequate academic programs and on-campus housing. To do this effectively, he and his staff are also helping to make the campus a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities.
“Many tools around us have increased our ability to be more autonomous more independent of disability status,” he said. “There is still a lot to do, but we have come a long way.”
Brown also believes that progress has been made, but more needs to be done.
“I remember this quote from President Theodore Roosevelt,” he said. “’This country will not be a good place for any of us to live unless we make it a good place for all of us.’ ”
Through its Opinion Department, the Kansas Reflector works to raise the voices of people affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. You can find information here, including how to submit your own comment.