A bittersweet victory at the testing site – The Williams Record | #students | #parents


An accessible route opened at the testing site last Tuesday. All week I’ve been getting messages like, “The accessible route is open, aren’t you so excited?” and “Wow it looks amazing, thank you for doing this work!” These were meant to be positive and congratulatory, but each comment fueled my rage just a little bit more. The accessible route at the testing site is not something to be celebrating. It’s six months overdue, and it just barely follows the law. Do the College’s administrators really expect me to pat them on the back for them doing their job, especially when they did it too late and badly?

The testing site is now ADA compliant, but it’s still not inclusive. As a college claiming to serve the needs of all its students, Williams should be utilizing the concept of Universal Design. This would require the built environment to be as accessible as possible to all people regardless of their age, size, or disability — in other words, the built environment should not need to be retrofitted (adjusted afterwards) to meet the needs of people who request them. At the testing site, all people should use the same route, and it should be accessible. The original design should have included microphones, magnifying glasses, large font signs, chairs at each station, and an accessible pathway. They should be using a different building if the Field House is inherently inaccessible (a problem for another op-ed). It is rude, exclusive, and traumatizing to separate students who need a more accessible route from those who do not. Why do I go to this college if it was built to exclude me?

The only reason that the testing site was retrofitted with an accessible pathway was that Facilities paid for a formal accessibility audit. And no, Facilities did not think to include me or anyone from the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) in its audit process. It was done without us and the report sent afterwards. We have no idea what the state of the site was during the audit, which is extremely problematic because the site’s accessibility fluctuates depending on who is working at a given time. The auditors could have seen the site at its best or they could have seen it at its worst, and of course, disabled people and/or allies were not there to make sure it was done correctly. Luckily, the audit was effective and addressed the lack of ADA compliance; what the audit revealed did not surprise me in the slightest:

 

Recommendations “professionals” made Recommendations I made When the College fixed it
Move the nose blowing station out of the accessible parking space Move the nose blowing station out of the accessible parking space When the “professionals” told them to
Don’t require people to enter and exit through the same doorway Don’t require people to enter and exit through the same doorway When the “professionals” told them to
Add signs Add signs When the “professionals” told them to
Have an accessible entrance and exit close to the accessible parking space Have an accessible entrance and exit close to the accessible parking space When the “professionals” told them to

 

Essentially, everything that I told Facilities, the testing site managers, some senior staff members, CSS, and a few other administrators was ignored until a “professional” told them the same. Is it because I’m a disabled young woman and not an able-bodied old man? Probably. Is it because they wanted to make sure they made as few changes as possible to save money for their almost-three-billion-dollar endowment? Super likely. I suppose it’s possible that they wanted to respect my time and heard my message that “I shouldn’t have to do this.” But at that point, I had already taken the time to give them suggestions, and they didn’t do anything until after the audit, which happened significantly later.

I have spent an entire class’ worth of free time learning disability law and my rights as a disabled person. I no longer trust the school, even OAE, to represent my best interests because I’ve had to fight for each of my reasonable accommodations that are protected by the law. I would love to just focus on my classes and friends, but that isn’t an option anymore. What does it say about this “prestigious” school that an ordinary student has to teach them how to design a space? Williams senior staff should either be embarrassed about how they run their college or they should congratulate themselves for successfully excluding disabled students. I have asked, demanded, and pleaded that Williams acknowledge their fault in the testing center design, and they refuse to do so. There has not been a single written statement admitting that they were in the wrong. Maud’s excuse, as she told a member of OAE in a recent meeting, was that people were tired of her “missives.” If the college president is needing to send out this many messages detailing how Williams will “do better,” maybe it’s time to admit there is something fundamentally wrong with this college and higher education in general.

So no, Williams, I am not going to applaud you for following the law at the testing site. I don’t have the energy to be grateful for this small concession on a campus full of ableist architecture. Not only is the new pathway six months too late but having one is the law and following it should have been default. Each time I get tested I am reminded that you did not think of people like me in your design and I relive the amount of trauma I endured to fight for my right to a legally accessible route. Your ableism is destroying me, literally. Do better for the students who come after me.

Abby Fournier ’21 is a political science major from Natick, Mass.



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