Rolling With It

Senior Daniel Strozdas, 22, of Springfield OH is wheeled into the Preston Center as part of an accessibility simulation for the Inclusive Recreation course at WKU. Associate professor of Recreation Administration Ron Ramsing has been doing the wheelchair accessibility simulation for about 9 years now and says the activity is all about raising awareness. “I caution students to make sweeping generalizations about what life with a disability is like after participating in this simulation,” Ramsing said. “But it is important for students to have a better understanding of the challenges people face so that they can be better advocates for change.” Jennifer King/HERALD

Madison Martin

When Franklin senior Jacob Holt first started college at WKU he had a class in Cherry Hall at the top of the infamous Hill. After circling around the building, he finally found an accessible door on the ground floor, where upon he reached the building’s elevator inside. This was a necessary course of action for him because Holt uses a power chair.

As a student who was born with osteogenesis imperfecta type III, also known as “brittle bones disease,” certain measures of accessibility are necessary for Holt to access buildings and maneuver the campus while using a wheelchair. As president of the Residents Hall Association, the representative organization for students living on campus, Holt endeavors to advocate for all kinds of students, both with and without disabilities.

“I’m just a person trying to live the American dream like everybody else,” Holt said.

Meanwhile, Ronald Ramsing, associate professor of recreation administration, is teaching inclusivity curriculum so that students are better equipped to serve all individuals with varying abilities. He instructs a class called Inclusive Recreation, a course made mandatory for majors after receiving student feedback that emphasized its importance.

“We are deconstructing basically the attitudes that people have about working with people with differing abilities,” Ramsing said. “This is really a class about diversity.  It just happens to focus on individuals with disabilities.”

Ramsing does this by educating his students about the etymology of terms and language surrounding individuals with disabilities, in order to help them understand how society has framed certain perspectives. The Americans with Disabilities Act is discussed, and Ramsing has his students go through simulations to gain a better idea on what it would be like to have a disability. One such exercise is having students navigate the campus for 90 minutes while using a wheelchair.

This does not make students understand just what it’s like to be a person who uses a chair, Ramsing said, but gives an approximation of it while raising sensitivity. This is fueled by the be

lief that all people should have access to recreation and still be accommodated and included no matter what their abilities are.

“Recreation is, in essence, about quality of life, and it’s a right; it’s not a privilege,” Ramsing said.

Ultimately, Ramsing wants his students to better understand how to meet the needs of any individual they work with.

“It’s being people-centered or person-centered,” Ramsing said. “And so yes, they are unique individuals; they may have a disability, but it’s the person first.”

Matthew Davis, a WKU alumnus and coordinator for the Student Accessibility Resource Center, stays active with the help of his wheelchair.

As someone who was born with spina bifida, a birth defect where fluid builds up on the spinal cord, which can cause varying levels of paralysis, Davis uses a push chair in his day-to-day life. His case gives him little to no feeling below the knees.

“I really didn’t think about [being] a person with a disability until somebody else pointed it out, because I was born with mine,” Davis said. “I just kind of adapted to the world around me, I guess.”

Davis recalled riding a Big Wheel and mobilizing himself by sitting on a skateboard as a kid. His father adapted his bicycle by putting in foot stirrups so Davis could use his legs instead of his feet to pedal.

His love of sports and activity since a young age has led to his participation in a variety of adaptive sports for almost 20 years. While having experience in playing sled hockey, basketball and tennis, Davis chiefly races. The sport has taken him all over, from competing in the Boston Marathon to the Oita International Wheelchair Marathon in Japan. It will be his 14th year racing in Oita this October.

“I just joke with them here [at the Student Accessibility Recourse Center] that I’m just doing this gig to feed my wheelchair sports habit,” Davis said.

When Davis is not racing, he’s acting as a resource and advocate for students in the SARC.

The SARC, located in Downing Student Union, endeavors to provide students a one-stop shop for their accessibility needs both inside and outside of the classroom. This includes, but is not limited to, providing testing rooms and proctors, making sure buildings and classrooms are accessible, and helping with housing. Parking and Transportation Services offers wheelchair lift-equipped Topper Transit buses along with on-call para-transit service.

Holt utilizes the SARC and Davis as a resource while also teaming up with them to help implement changes that improve accessibility.

“If I have any sort of question, I know I can ask Matt,” Holt said. “If he doesn’t know, he can go figure it out, which is nice.”

When the new DSU first opened, Holt found that there were no accessible buttons installed to open doors. Holt worked with Davis and RHA to have contractors and engineers install them in the building.

“I’m not averse to those challenges,” Holt said. “I’m used to fighting for stuff that I feel is unfair, I guess.”

Holt has brought attention to other challenges related to campus structures, like working with HRL and PTS to widen the handicap spaces in the Minton Lot, when they could not fit his van and ramp. Although the campus is not perfectly accessible and has room for improvement, Holt said the Americans with Disabilities Act can only require accessibility accommodations that are “readily achievable.”

 “It’s small, small victories at a time,” Holt said. “The world doesn’t change overnight, as cool as that’d be.”

Holt was reluctant to offer up what he would want someone to know who might not be aware of challenges that wheelchair users may face. He said he was just another individual trying to achieve success.

“I’m not asking for anything from anybody,” Holt said. “That question sets me up like I’m the wheelchair Pope, like ‘something we should all know about!’ Everybody’s different.”

Davis said it was an act of turning lemons into lemonade when having the opportunity to travel and compete in adaptive sports. Holt said he shares a love of sarcasm with Davis and can give him a hard time.

“That’s how I roll. I’m a roll model,” Davis quipped.