Amid construction woes, some struggle to navigate Hill

Beth Sewell

Nathan Bolton goes through the day feeling like his hands are tied to a chair.

Feeling like he’s trapped.

Every day.

When he was 13 months old, the Bowling Green junior was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a neurological syndrome caused by an inflammation of the spinal cord.

The condition left Bolton confined to a wheelchair for most of his life.

He is completely dependent on others to open doors, carry him to and from his bed, even feed him. But he’s never let that stop him.

“I’m sure it’s a humbling experience for people to experience what it’s like to be me,” Bolton said. “But when your life is like that every day, it becomes normal.”

The struggles Bolton deals with haven’t gotten any easier this semester. They’ve gotten harder – construction projects on campus have made it more difficult for him to navigate the Hill.

Western is using a 1995 state grant of $1 million to improve campus accessibility in an effort to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The improvements are meant to make things better for disabled students, but Bolton says Western is temporarily making it worse.

“Every semester or every few weeks it feels like I have to learn a new way to class,” Bolton said. “But on a campus that’s growing, I guess it’s part of it.”

Joannah Peterson of Glasgow also has to change her route to get from building to building in her wheelchair. She comes to Western for her Japanese tutoring sessions, and the sidewalks and ramps for disabled students are confusing to navigate, she said.

Though she isn’t a student, she feels the frustration like every other student, disabled or not.

“I go all the way down a hill and then it’s like, ‘Bam!’ There’s a set of stairs, out of nowhere,” Peterson said. “I just have to turn around and go back up the hill to find a different way. I don’t know how to get around this campus.”

Construction Management director Ed West said most of the problems disabled students experience now are because of the ADA projects. But, he said, the problems shouldn’t last much longer.

The campus overhaul includes repouring sidewalks, adding signage, replacing elevators and renovating bathrooms.

“When students return from Christmas break, all the ADA renovations will be complete,” West said.

Though the construction has caused temporary inconveniences, Bolton said fellow students have picked up the slack with some southern hospitality.

When Bolton first came to Western, he said, students were friendly and willing to open doors for him. Bolton said he is more than happy to accept a helping hand, and he feels like he makes a friend in the process.

“I love to talk to people,” Bolton said. “And if someone has a question about me or how I do something, just ask. I don’t get offended if someone asks about my disability.”

Students have the opportunity to find out more about the struggles of people with disabilities.

October is National Disabilities Month, and Western hosts an event Oct. 29 where students will be able to ask questions, and experience the answers by participating in simulations that will show them what it’s like to be disabled.

“I hope people take advantage of that and experience what it would be like,” Bolton said. “A part of college is about learning, and that doesn’t always mean from a book.”

Reach Beth Sewell at [email protected]