Don’t Disable Our Access, ConU

Being Outed as a “Differently-Abled” Person

Graphic Caity Hall

While I can never really forget that I have rheumatoid arthritis, the winter serves as an extra-special reminder of the fact that I have to do things a little differently than most people.

For the record, I’m not a dinosaur—I am 23 years old.

I’ve had arthritis since the age of one, so I know how to work around the day-to-day management of my disease. Most of the time, you probably can’t even tell that there’s anything different about me, aside from my usual oddball weirdness—and I like it that way.

But occasionally, my joints decide that they aren’t going to cooperate with me and so I have to hobble around campus, trying to ignore the stares and comments. Unfortunately, Concordia doesn’t make my life any less stressful on these days.

I walked into the MB Building recently and, given that my left knee couldn’t bend, climbing the stairs to the second floor for my tutorial seemed like a silly idea. So I limped to the elevators—only to find that none of them stop on the second floor anymore, only on the third or higher.

There is nothing worse than wanting to chop off your own leg and finding out that your university is adding insult to injury by preventing you from using an accessibility tool because “it’s just one floor.”

I should be upfront about the fact that the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities offers an electronic card that disabled students can use in elevators to access all floors. But the reason that I haven’t taken the Centre up on that service is for the following reason: I don’t want to ‘out’ myself as a differently-abled individual.

When people realize that there is something “wrong” with me, it changes their perception of me. They walk slower, they constantly ask me if I’m okay and they unintentionally make my arthritis the core component of my identity.

It’s like if you have a sunburn and someone continually asks you if you’re in pain. Of course you are. You don’t want people reminding you of it every five minutes.

There is nothing that irks me more than being the “disabled girl” in somebody’s eyes. I realize that coming forward to write an opinion piece for The Link may seem contradictory to that, but the majority of Concordia students don’t know who I am, and those people who do know me will hopefully keep my previous wishes in mind.

I don’t want to have to have a big internal debate about whether or not I can tolerate stairs on a particular day because I don’t want to have to use a key that makes people stare at me and whisper as if I can’t hear what they’re saying in the often sardine tin-esque elevator situation that I find myself in.

We all deserve the right to feel safe within our educational environment, and I don’t feel comfortable swiping an elevator key—nor worrying about whether people are watching me struggle to hop up the stairs because my knee won’t bend.

Allowing students to maintain the same sort of anonymity that they enjoy when they walk into the ACSD office is not too much to ask. I deserve the right to use the elevator to go to whatever floor I need to without making a big deal of it.

Every student at Concordia should be able to get around in an elevator without restrictions. While using the stairs may be more health-conscious and is an option that I advocate for when I’m feeling fine, the option to use the elevator to get to every floor should still be there.

People regularly cart trolleys, heavy sound systems, and other items that require them to have access to all floors at Concordia without needing key cards or special permissions.

Perhaps the elevator service would slow down a little for the extra floors, but if Concordia can be easier to navigate for all students by allowing elevator access on all floors, I think that it’s something that the administration should consider.

Erika Couto is the VP Clubs and Services for FASA.