Existential Fortune Cookies: Getting around

Opinion by Sebastain Gould
May 11, 2012, 12:20 a.m.

The Stanford campus is made for pedestrians, first and foremost. Many streets that were passable when I was a freshman no longer are, and the campus is becoming more restricted to traffic. Parking lots are being pushed farther and farther from the academic buildings, and as a result, more people choose to bike and walk.

This is great for those of us who don’t want to worry about having to dodge cars in the Quad (although occasionally you will have to jump out of the way of a careless service vehicle or haphazard golf cart driver). The bad part about the campus being so pedestrian-driven is that students, staff and faculty with disabilities find it much harder to get around.

The number of students at Stanford who are registered with the Office of Accessible Education for disability-related issues was less than 200 a couple years ago, but the difficulty in mobility for those who are registered can be insurmountable at times. There are several things that make it difficult for students in wheelchairs. If you are temporarily injured and in a wheelchair, you are presented with an immediate problem if you live in one of the many residences on campus that have multiple stories and no elevators. The good thing about Stanford, though, is that it quickly accommodates such situations and provides the necessary transfer housing needed. The only downside is that you have to move your belongings while injured and in pain.

Besides housing, simply going to class can be difficult. Much of the campus is situated on a giant hill that slopes down from the Dish to the Bay, but some parts of campus are much steeper than others. Going to Florence Moore Hall and the residences behind it is especially difficult. Another problem is the unevenness of sidewalks and bike paths. All roads and sidewalks have to have a slight grading, or slant, to them, so that the water will run off. The problem for individuals in wheelchairs is that they are constantly rolling in the direction of the slant, thereby putting a great deal of pressure on one side of their bodies. Of course, this is something that cannot be helped, but it is simply another facet of what it means to be in a wheelchair.

A good friend of mine has permanently lost the use of his legs and has a wheelchair. He lives off-campus with his wife and child and commutes to campus via his wheelchair-accessible van. It has a side lift to help him enter and exit the van, and without it he would not be able to go to class. The handicap spots, then, are of utmost importance for students with disabilities. If he gets to the Oval and all of the spots are taken, he must then look for parking elsewhere, sometimes up to half a mile away. All of this, plus the time to drive there and get out of his van, makes him severely late to class, sometimes to the point that he might as well not go at all.

That brings me to the point of this week’s column: a few weeks ago I saw a car pull into a parking space marked for handicapped people, and a bunch of people piled out jumping and laughing and generally carousing. I stared in disbelief as the group of friends proceeded to walk away from the now-parked car, with none of them showing signs of being injured. I assumed that they were parking there temporarily, until I saw the red temporary disability placard in the car. Now, it is possible that the individual driving the car was injured in some way that didn’t preclude jumping and that there were no obvious signs of injury, but it seemed as though something wasn’t right. I wouldn’t otherwise mind these individuals taking advantage of the law and getting a permit that they do not seem to need, but it does bother me that my friend often finds cars with red disability placards in the parking spaces near his classes. It is of course completely possible that the people using them fully need them, but based on the duration of time that the cars park in those spots, day after day, it seems much more likely that those people are using them as long as they can, and not as long as they are injured.

Stanford could create more parking spaces on campus for individuals with handicapped parking placards, but that would do nothing to stop those who use placards even when they don’t need them. Instead of accommodating students who abuse the system, call your friends out when they do.

Tell Sebastain what you think at [email protected].

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