The Michigan Daily- Friday, October 4, 1991 - Page 5
by Lynne Cohn
w ily Staff Reporter
When the editor first approached
me with the idea to write a story
about physically disabled students,
he suggested riding around in a
wheelchair for a day, just to see
what it's like. It was a great sugges-
tion - the perfect way to write a
story like this.
But I didn't do it.
At first, I thought it wouldn't
lly matter. But deep down, I
ew the real reason why I
wouldn't: It scared me.
Walking around campus, I
thought about the technical limita-
tions - I couldn't live in my
apartment because there are six
steep steps leading up to the door,
and I couldn't work at the Daily.
But I never thought about the emo-
tional limitations until I inter-
awed someone who has to deal
with a physical disability every day
of his life.
While conducting the interview
in the basement of the Union, all I
could focus on was the fact that the
person sitting beside me was in a
wheelchair. I had a problem with
the thought of calling attention to
myself by using a wheelchair for a
But I had a choice.
The reality of a physical disabil-
ity is the lack of a choice. Eric
Silberberg, the LSA student I inter-
viewed, said he really doesn't mind
the wheelchair. It's the baggage that
goes along with his disability that
makes it hard.
Dealing with people who react
like I did probably makes it harder.
* "The cliche, 'you find out who
your friends are,' is definitely true,"
said Eric, a 22-year-old English and
computer science concentrator from
Birmingham, Mich. "Certain people
stick around, but you can separate
the friends from the acquaintances.
It's not determined by who comes
to visit you in the hospital."
Though he now sits in a wheel-
chair four feet from the ground, Eric
es not always been handicapped. On
a family vacation aboard a cruise
ship, the not-quite 15-year-old Eric
flipped over a railing and fell 30
feet, fracturing two vertebrae.
When asked how the accident af-
fected his life, Eric joked, "I haven't
quite figured it out yet.
"It changed my family relation-
ships," he said. "I wouldn't say it
ought us closer together, but I
ould say it brought them closer to
Eric's mother, Rachelle Silber-
berg, said her son's accident pro-
vided him with a "humongous chal-
lenge. He's met that challenge."
Eric and his parents are disap-
pointed with the University's lack
of wheelchair accessibility, though
Rachelle admits to pushing her son
* attend Michigan.
"I said, 'I think you've got the
ability to do it,' and I was right,"
she said. "It's never been the goal to
make things easy."
Eric said Michigan State Univer-
sity is "10 times better than here"
as far as accessibility, but "they
turned me down. My grades were
not great. I'm not a particularly
Physically disabled students try to cope on campus
going until I have to find another
entrance to a building or it takes me
twice as long to go to the
Eric recently paired off with
Wager, a service dog from Paws
With A Cause in Grand Rapids.
Wager is trained to reach light
switches or open doors.
"Some serious quads (quadri-
plegics) need the dog to pick things
up for them," Eric said.
Eric called himself a "super-
quad;" though four limbs are im-
paired, he is able to use his hands
almost completely. He can write,
though somewhat shaky, and he can
drive by using hand controls on the
that I could not reach. I tried mov-
ing the wheels, as Eric instructed,
but I couldn't get myself very far.
"The technical things (like not
walking) are really kind of minor,"
Rachelle said. "The biggest thing is
the emotional impact - you may
not be able to get to the bathroom in
The exact number of physically
disabled students on campus is un-
known. Elizabeth Maasen, of the
Services for Students with Disabil-
ities (SSD) office, estimated that
there are less than 20.
"Overall, the University is in
pretty good shape for accommodat-
ing students with physical disabili-
ties," said Brian Clapham, the cam-
pus Affirmative Action representa-
tive. "It's not barrier-free, but there
has been an effort over the last five
or six years to build under barrier-
One of the functions of the cam-
body has some sort of story - you
can't dwell on it.
"Every football game I get up-
set. I used to be on the field, which
is exciting, but you can't see over
the photographers and you can't sit
with your friends. I end up walking
home alone because it's impossible
to find.them after. It's an emotional
high and low."
It's hard enough walking down
Hoover in the congested aftermath
of a football game, but Eric rolls
himself to and from every game.
"The most annoying thing about
big crowds is you say 'excuse me'
and nobody hears you," he said. "So
the third time, you just say, 'Move!'
and invariably I clip a heel or toe
and then they're pissed at you be-
cause it looks like you ignored them
Eric recalled the football game
against Notre Dame in 1989. The
pouring rain diminished many stu-
"I can deal with not walking.
The biggest problems are dexterity
and having to go to the bathroom all
There is a University policy for
moving classes if a student is unable
to physically attend on account of
inaccessibility or an elevator that
'I think the access on this campus sucks
though it has gotten better...'
- Eric Silberberg
frequently breaks down.
"I really think that because there
are a lot of older buildings, a lot of
changes have to be made," SSD's
Maasen said. "They've made signifi-
cant progress. If it were a whole
new campus... then bathroom doors
would not swing the wrong way
and you wouldn't have stalls that
are not the right size."
Although he has taken the
University bus for students with
disabilities, Eric mostly relies on
Students have the option to use
University Special Transportation
(UST) with a doctor's note stating
why they qualify for special bus
service. The service is free, and the
buses run on weekdays from 7:15
a.m. to 10 p.m.
Maasen, the SSD liaison with
UST, said students with "any sig-
nificant physical impairment" may
use the bus, but it is "up to the per-
son whether they want to ask us."
Dan Speiharr, a Paratransit Yel-
low Cab employee who dispatches
the UST buses, said, "Sometimes
there are problems with a lot of
rides at one particular time, but it
has been resolved - the University
recently hired a new bus."
Speiharr said between 25 and 30
students use UST at any given time.
"We get a lot of knee injuries
and sprained ankles," he said, "but
we also get wheelchairs and persons
who are blind."
Bus rides aside, it is hard to mea-
sure whether the University climate
is sensitive to students with
."The degree of sensitivity varies
depending on what department
you're in," Clapham said. "Some-
times people don't think about the
physical limitations - it just
doesn't enter their mind. It's not
deliberate or malicious.'"
Clapham said the key is educat-
ing students about disabilities. He
said people "are much more under-
standing" once made aware of the
needs of students with disabilities.
Educating others about such
needs may create greater sensitivity
or awareness. But eventually, the
others can walk away.
Christine Fenno, a junior in the
School of Music, watched a handi-
capped student wheel himself down
the street outside her State Street
home. She described his journey,
mentioning her surprise that he was
able to wheel himself around.
He looked both ways and began
to cross an intersection. As he ap-
proached the curb, he realized that
there was no ramp. He stopped and
considered his options. Then, he
backed up into the middle of the
street and propelled himself toward
the curb at full speed. The curb was
still too high.
He sighed, turning his wheel-
chair away from the sidewalk. He
continued wheeling himself down
the middle of the street. The curb
was just too high.
On Sunday, the Daily cel-
ebrated a birthday - its 101st. It
went by without much notice,
either from the paper's staff or
always He rd
a time to
think back on
look ahead to
as positive as
I think the paper's past century
and 12 months have been, there
are still some things that bother
me about it.
One of those things is the
Daily's responsibility to accom-
modate every student interested in
working for the paper.
The problem is with the
Student Publications Building.
The Daily has been the building's
primary tenant for almost 60
years. And though the structure
has adequately suited the paper's
needs over that period of time, it
has never been equipped to
provide complete access for the
The building does have a ramp
at the rear entrance to permit
access to the first floor, but the
only routes to the second floor are
two extremely steep stairways.
And although most of the
Daily's activities - both adver-
tising and editorial - take place
on the second floor, the paper's
production facilities are on the
first floor. A big part of working
for the Daily, therefore, is going
up and down the stairs - a lot.
Obviously, anyone with a
physical disability would be at a
distinct disadvantage. In fact,
disabled students have simply not
been able to work at the Daily.
The problem, however, hasn't
gone unnoticed. Daily editors
approached the University a few
years ago in the hopes of convinc-
ing it to install an elevator in the
building. But the estimated cost
- about $250,000 - is, to say
the least, prohibitive. And
because the University isn't under
any legal obligation to make such
an expensive structural change to
the building, it has shelved the
Last year, the newly-formed
Daily Alumni Club established a
fund for the elevator in the name
of Jim Neubacher, a former Daily
editor. Neubacher was stricken
with multiple sclerosis soon after
he left the Daily in 1971, and later
wrote a column about the disabled
in the Detroit Free Press. He died
The alumni mean well, and
have worked hard to raise money
for the fund. But $250,000 is an
exorbitant amount of money, and
the alumni's fund - quite frankly
- isn't even close to that amount.
So the elevator proposal has
hit an impasse. The University
won't pay; the alumni can't. Even
the Daily's financial parent, the
Board for Student Publications,
has responded to the idea timidly.
But this is just too important to
abandon at that.
The fact that physically
disabled students can't get around
the Student Publications Building
is a blemish on all our faces. A
community that touts itself as an
"open and accessible environ-
ment" shouldn't be making
excuses for such a restrictive
obstacle; it should be making
The University spends
millions each year on campus
renovation and maintenance. And
the Board for Student Publica-
tions is sitting on an endowment
worth well more than $1 million.
Neither has a credible~excuse to
ignore this problem.
And this isn't just about being
able to work for the Daily. Hell,
it's not even about the law, or it
shouldn't have to be. This is
about ensuring that everyone on
Assistance dog Wager helps out LSA senior Eric Silberberg by handing him his car keys.
pus Affirmative Action Office is to
insure that the University does not
discriminate against people with
disabilities, Clapham said.
Rhonda Gilmore, the senior
counselor in the Office of Under-
graduate Admissions, said she never
sees prospective students who are
"There really is not much of a
'Sometimes people don't think about the
physical limitations. It's not deliberate'
Affirmative Action Representative
dents' urges to get to the game, but
Eric was there.
He said jeans weren't the best to
wear because they got cold and
heavy from the rain. But he was de-
termined, He cheered for the Wol-
verines from his seat on the field
and wheeled himself home af-
terward, only to jump in a hot
shower with his clothes still on.
The University is increasing its
effort to help disabled students. A
priority registration program began
in December 1989, allowing stu-
dents who qualify to CRISP at the
front of their group. If it is diffi-
cult for a student to register amidst
the congestion of CRISP, the pro-
gram also allows students to select
classes at the Registrar's Office.
Affirmative Action's Clapham
said he works with departmental
construction to make campus build-
ings more barrier-free. There is also
an Accessibility Task Force, of
which Clapham is a member, that
looks at ways to improve the physi-
cal accessibility of the University.
Eric said, "The inaccessibility
does affect my grades - when I
can't get out of my house because
I'm snowed in. I'll never make it be-
tween classes in 10 minutes, but I'll
University buildings, however,
do not present the only problems of
accessibility on campus.
Eric said the Greek system at the
University is "completely inacces-
sible. I thought about it like all
other freshmen, but I lived in 38
Hall (in South Quad) and we
Eric's disability has not impaired
his ability to have a good time.
"Sometimes I forget about the
wheelchair. But I've been carried in
and out of every bar in Ann Arbor
and in and out of every frat house,"
Eric said. "It takes time to deal
with certain parts of it. I'm very ac-
tive and very little stops me. They
might not notice because I'm so out-
I think the access on this cam-
pus sucks," Eric said, "though it has
gotten better over the last five
A man who frequently jokes
ound - he describes himself as
"six feet and four foot four - take
the average" - Eric does not let his
disability get in his way. He offered
to let me "try out" his wheelchair
in the MUG, lifting himself out of
it and into another chair. .
I climbed into the chair. The
world became bigger. Light
switches, doorways and even the
Wendy's counter grew to mountains
reason to come in because their phys-
ical disability does not impair their
ability to learn," she said. "I'd as-
sume they apply normally and seek
out the services once they get here."
While University personnel try
to help disabled students get into
buildings more easily, they spend
less time advising them about pos-
sible emotional difficulties.
From where he sits, Eric encoun-
ters problems more complicated
'than an inadequate curb ramp or a
tricky building entrance.
"You have to be on an emotional
middle ground," he said. "Every-
'U stresses student potential
in Investing in Abilities Week
Investing in Ability Week
IWi$ndW ~~ Ioyii 1 n-
Equal employment opportunities and
Next week, deemed Investing in
Ability Week by Gov. John Engler,
various University programs will
emphasize that although there are
Clapham, the campus Affirmative
The Career Planning & Place-
ment Office is sponsoring a program
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