Disabled students are invisible to able-bodied students

By Michael Isam | gargoyle@flagler.edu

I was once like you. I could run, jump, dodge, walk backward when necessary, and in general get from place to place in a hurry if required. I lettered in football, basketball, track, volleyball, and softball. I played hardball from the second grade through American Legion. As you will learn, and you will learn it, our bodies change. And those changes are not always for the best. In some sports, athletes are over the hill at 34 and even earlier in other sports.

I spent a year and a day in that lovely lush forested country in Southeast Asia called Vietnam. I had just passed my 40th anniversary of that service when diabetes from exposure to Agent Orange reared its ugly head. Talk about challenges. Too much sugar and I go into a coma. Not enough sugar and I shake so bad I am unable to get food from the plate to my mouth unless I use both hands. Then add a constant of numbness in the toes to the point I can’t tell what I’m standing on or how high my foot is off the ground. You get to actually feel that special soft, luscious feeling of grass under your feet. I experience it only as a memory.

I have to constantly look down at where I am going to make sure my feet are actually going in the direction I want to travel. Then a couple of years ago a balance problem appeared that causes me to occasionally bend like a pretzel while negotiating from point A to point B. That distance could be one step or 40.

For mobility-challenged students, traveling from class to class on the campus of Flagler College can be like negotiating an obstacle course while blindfolded. You never know from where the gremlin will strike.

The hallways of Kenan Hall are the worst. Not only are the hallways narrow, but they are teeming with students. They weave left and right, speed up and slow down. If you have ever watched ants on a trail between food source and anthill you know what I mean. Ants either going out for food or coming back to the mound with food have no rules or guidelines. It’s just get to where you are going as fast as you can and getting back with as much as you can carry.

Try negotiating those hallways on crutches, using a cane for balance or in a wheelchair.

For the most part, there are a lot of really nice people out there. They actually see mobility-challenged people coming and are considerate. They move out of the way, they hold doors and make room in the elevators.

But then there are those absorbed people blocking the entire walkway while they discuss the beautiful sheen to Rodney’s teeth. “Aren’t they just fabulous? You know his parents flew in a specialist from Switzerland just to clean them.” When you attempt to be polite and say “Excuse me”, they just look at you as if you crawled out from under a rock and how dare you interrupt this earth shattering important conversation.

To those students who see the old man with the cane that walks really weird or the young lady who gets around in a wheelchair and take a second to hold or open a door, I say “Thank You” from the bottom of my heart.

To the others, it would be great if you had to spend two weeks travelling around in a manually operated wheelchair, or on crutches, maybe with full braces from hip to foot. Then you will have just a bit of understanding of what the mobility-challenged live with day in and day out. Maybe then compassion will enter your heart.

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