At HWS, disabled students face barriers that impact their education. I have witnessed my friends navigate these challenges and feel compelled to emphasize their experiences on campus. I don’t have a disability and recognize that I am not an expert on these issues. Rather, I want to share the stories of Kyle Mast ‘24 and Rodman Stout ‘24 and the organization they started in the fall semester of 2022 to address these concerns. Lastly, I want to explore the question: How does accessibility at HWS impact the overall student body?
Personally, I was first exposed to thinking about accessibility and disability culture in my WMST 204 class taught by CAA’s faculty advisor and Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, Jessica Hayes-Conroy. In this class, students think widely about disability and issues of intersectionality by analyzing accessibility problems here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Kyle Mast ‘24 was a classmate of mine, who shared lots of personal anecdotes and challenged the class to view perspectives that my classmates and I were never exposed to.
Through conversations early this fall, I found out that Kyle Mast and Rodman Stout, both current juniors at the colleges, worked together to create a much-needed club on campus. They both met in Education 206, taught by Diane Baker, which is one of only a handful of classes that mainly focus on disability. It allowed them and many other students to identify key components of an accessible educational space. It took both Kyle and Rodman four semesters to find a community at HWS.
Kyle explained, “That was a big thing for me for the first two years. It took a while to find a community that related to the disabled experience.”
It is Rodman and Kyle’s hope that students in the future will know where to turn to find a community automatically when they arrive on campus. So, they both decided to create that community through their club; the Campus Access Association (CAA). CAA is a space that allows students with disabilities to speak about their personal experiences and share them with their fellow peers. This allows for more representation, education, and the creation of an overall supportive community.
“We identified this need,” Kyle stated, “We have a lot of resources here on Campus, but nothing specifically for the disabled community.”
Outlining the club’s creation process, Kyle continues, “Rodman and I decided that we needed to organize a space for disabled students. There is a lot of power in numbers, rather than just four to five people having these great ideas. I sat down with Rodman, wrote the constitution, and worked together to get the club approved by student engagement and open to the student body.”
Kyle and Rodman identified a couple of goals they would like to accomplish in the short term. The first is to make a community, the second is to educate the overall HWS community about disability culture, and the third is to make our campus more accessible, whether that is advocating for more accessible housing, buildings on campus, or in the classroom with accommodations that professors should oblige by.
“The goal of the CAA is to have a group of people who can provide mutual support and share advice,” Rodman expressed, “the focus is on creating accessibility and a community around disability.”
The CAA has created a space on campus that educates the HWS community on disability culture. This is especially important for issues that arise surrounding inaccessible housing and accommodations, which are often an uphill battle for students with disabilities, adding to the already daunting task of becoming comfortable as college students with a disability.
In fact, HWS is missing a key piece to its DEIA program which Rodman expressed as something that cannot be ignored. She explained, “there is really no conversation about disability culture on campus,” and identified that, “HWS has an office of DEIA, but there is rarely a mention of the A for Accessibility in the campus community, and this does not exist anywhere on the HWS website. Disability is, fundamentally, an intersectional issue. Accessibility must be part of the conversation surrounding equity and inclusion on our campus.”
The structure of buildings on campus is a great example where accessibility could be prioritized more. When buildings on campus aren’t accessible, it adds additional stress to the daily lives of students with disabilities in everyday life. No one should have to deal with more stressors than the ones college students already experience every day!
When first-year students have no idea where to turn for support, the freshman housing situation is terrifying. For students who need housing accommodations, it is even worse. For incoming students, whether freshmen or transfers, there is only one room in Jackson, Potter, and Reese (JPR) that is fully accessible. The room is on the first floor of Reese and has an accessible bathroom across the hallway. Both Rodman and Kyle lived in this room. Kyle lived there his first year, while Rodman lived there her sophomore year.
“For someone who is a freshman, that room can be truly isolating. You’re not part of a floor, a community, in the way that other freshmen are. Freshmen are part of a cohort, for example, the people who live on Jackson (J) 1 all know each other” Rodman states, identifying a separation often felt between students with disabilities and their peers.
The fact that there is only ONE accessible room in all JPR raises two questions in my mind: What if more than one incoming student needs fully accessible housing? How does living in this room affect the social aspect of being a first year, such as trying to make friends? What about being an upperclassman in a first-year dorm, like Rodman experienced her sophomore year?
Overall, these issues aren’t just seen in first-year dorms, but all-around campus. Rodman points out,
“There isn’t enough disability-accessible housing and the choices students have are very limited.”
Kyle and Rodman both have explained that most buildings lack basic accessibility features. From personal observations, I have noticed that most buildings have stairs to get into them. In Cox Hall, where many of my classes have taken place, stairs lead to the women’s bathroom. Lastly, many automatic doors have broken over the years. In fact, Kyle explained that automatic door buttons cannot be fixed without contacting the manufacturer who built them.
Going forward, The CAA hopes to speak to the HWS community more and have a greater presence at their meetings, which are held on Wednesdays at 5:30 pm in Merritt Hall. Everyone is welcome! This semester CAA led events with other clubs on campus, such as the Outdoor Recreation Adventure Program (ORAP), The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and many other groups on campus. Next semester, they hope to invite speakers on campus and look forward to hosting more events!