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31 Years After the ADA, My University Is Still Not Accessible

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“Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” These words, uttered by President George H.W. Bush nearly 31 years ago when he signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, ushered in what promised to be a new era of opportunity and inclusion for those with disabilities. Yet, as most of us are aware, the work is far from over and the shameful walls of exclusion still exist.

This could not be any more apparent than on my campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The nation’s oldest public university, UNC was founded on a simple premise: to provide affordable public education to all. Yet, for students with disabilities, the university still lags on that promise. The campus is old, and many of its buildings are hard to access and need improvement. One building in particular, Caldwell Hall, is completely inaccessible. This means that students who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices cannot access the building at all. In addition, our campus’s most enduring symbol, the Old Well, only has a wheelchair ramp during graduation and the first day of classes so that people can take photos. This is unacceptable. The Old Well needs a permanent wheelchair ramp so that everyone can access it.

The administration likes to tout UNC as being “the most public of the publics,” yet it can not be truly public until it is accessible to all. The administration hears our concerns and is sympathetic towards them, yet says the issue is lack of funding. If that is indeed the case, I’m ready to go to the General Assembly and lobby for more funding for our treasured institution. In the year 2021, the fact that individuals with disabilities still face a plethora of issues accessing our facilities is shameful. This is a human rights issue, not a political one. Let’s work together to make UNC a more accessible and welcoming place for everyone.

Getty image by PA Brady Photo.

Originally published: July 20, 2021
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