The activism in listening to others

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Sometimes, you have to learn a lesson the hard way. For me, the hard way was breaking my toe in my dorm room a few weeks ago. After x-rays and many trips to the health center here on campus, I was ready to step back into the world. All I had to do was some taping, elevating and iceing it for a few times a day; I also had to avoid the stairs for a week or so. As an able-bodied person, I did not realize how these simple tasks would shake up my daily commutes.

First off, I had no idea where most of the elevators were! Thankfully, Muhlenberg has a campus accessibility page that lists all of them as well as other accessibility issues for each building. As I was checking this list to find the Ettinger elevator, I noticed some buildings on campus are not accessible at all. Last year I lived in Brown, one of those inaccessible buildings. I couldn’t help thinking about how hard it would have been if I still lived there.

Then, I realized my thinking was a bit short-sighted. Sure, I was injured then, but I would be better in a month or two. Why hadn’t I realized there were places I went to on campus every day that not every person could? The reason is simple; I wasn’t actively trying to notice or listen. As an able-bodied person, I could easily walk past the “out of order” sign on the elevator which led to my favorite dining hall table or to my professor’s office.

This is not a congratulatory article about me realizing my own ignorance and patting myself on the back. This is a callout of my ignorance and a pledge to actively try to listen. I urge everyone else to look at their own ignorance. It is not beneficial for me as someone with an injury, and a minor one at that, to wax poetic about something I do not regularly deal with. What is beneficial then? Listening to others! Not only are there nationally known activists, but also members of the Muhlenberg community and the world at large who have been saying college campuses need to be more accessible for students, faculty and professors with a wide range of disabilities.

By elevating others’ voices, we can learn from those affected, instead of just assuming we know all there is about issues

Yale Daily News reported on the story of Christina Kim, who on her first day of math class realized she “could not get to her classroom — the building is not wheelchair accessible.” Some of the classroom buildings that are marked as accessible are “’not accessible from the outside… the underground routes are helpful, but sometimes when I’m limited for time, like between classes, it’s hard to quickly go outside and get out of the building.’” Helen Okobokekeimei, a contributor to the Huffington Post, writes that “college administrators and officials, staff members, professors and non-disabled students should get real and accommodate students with disabilities with eagerness and empathy.” It is important to elevate the voices of those who experience these accessibility issues.

By elevating others’ voices, we can learn from those affected, instead of just assuming we know all there is about issues. While activism circles often express the importance of speaking up, sometimes the most important thing to do is listen.

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