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Friday, June 02, 2023
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Crutching to changes

Our campus needs to open its eyes and see our societal structure benefiting those with full mobility and disadvantaging disabled individuals.

Whenever I’m asked to share a fun fact, I often say I’ve never broken a bone. Granted, it’s not the most exciting fact for those around me, but it’s something some individuals can either relate to or use as a reminder of their bone-breaking experiences.

I heard someone use that as their fun fact recently — after I could no longer use it — and I internally rolled my eyes as some people in the room glanced at my black, knee-high cast.

My internal frustration grew into concern and sadness — many of those who have not had a temporary mobility disability have yet to realize how ableist our society is. 

Before breaking my ankle in two places, I did not realize how hard it is to navigate life with a physical impairment. As naive as this sounds, there are services and resources in place that provide assistance on paper, but not in reality. 

We live on a walking campus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — there’s no denying that. So, when I was handed my crutches, I knew I would have to quickly modify some aspects of my life. I transitioned from a life of walking an estimated nine miles a day, constantly on the move, into one of patience and reliance on others — especially when traveling from school building to school building. 

The little things I modified have been some of the most upsetting ones. Music is a major part of who I am, constantly keeping me in a good mood. I used to listen to music all the time — bringing my phone into the shower and walking to class with earbuds were a daily necessity. 

Yet, I’ve grown nervous of dropping my phone while crutching to the bathroom and simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of an AirPod potentially falling out of my ear. Minor aspects of my daily routine now contribute to a nostalgia I have for my life before breaking two of my bones. 

It’s always about the little things.

I started using this service offered by the school that shuttles students with mobility disabilities. I was ecstatic when my physician’s assistant told me it existed because it meant I wouldn’t have to pay for Ubers anymore. It’s the small victories that help my current physical and emotional fracture.

Yet, this service is the opposite of a victory. I live 0.2 miles off campus, on Langdon Street, just like thousands of other students. The service refuses to pick me up and drop me off at my home. It is unsafe for me to be crutching to the Graduate Hotel on black ice or when our lovely Wisconsin winter decides to unpredictably shower us with snow. 

Yet, our inaccessible campus allows individuals like me to be rejected a convenient pick up and drop off location. 

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I’m one of the lucky ones, though. While this is an inconvenience for my spring semester, I will eventually be able to walk from class to class normally — putting this experience behind me. 

Students with permanent mobility disabilities must find on-campus housing accommodations. Beside university housing, the apartment options considered in bounds for the shuttle service are significantly more expensive than living slightly off campus. Some can afford this financial burden, but I sympathize with those who can’t. 

Even if the shuttle service is more helpful for some students than it is for me, we still have to make it into our classrooms. I hope most students who have mobility disabilities were admitted into the business school their freshman year, because that is the only campus building I have found with a ramp at the entrance.

For being a top ranked university, I expect more accessible campus buildings. However, this is something many donors and designers don’t consider when making new buildings because they are likely removed from disability in their functional lives. I was too, before Feb. 17. 

Now, I realize how ableist our society is, and disability advocates predict just that — they believe everyone who lives long enough winds up disabled sooner or later. While my disability experience happened at 19, I know I will continue to walk through life with a less ableist lens. 

Of course, it is not my hope that everyone breaks their ankle and is on crutches for months. But, I do hope everyone is able to open their eyes and see our societal structure benefiting those with full mobility and disadvantaging disabled individuals. 

I plan to turn this accident that has prompted pity from my peers into campus change. I began talking to our administration about the shuttle service boundaries with the hope that future students with temporary physical disabilities don’t have to undergo the same trudges through snow. I also plan to work with the student government sector that has contacts to make disability changes on campus.

Turning this challenge into an opportunity and eye-opening experience is what made an accidental fall down the stairs worthwhile, and maybe — just maybe — happen for a reason.

Anna Schulman is a sophomore at UW-Madison studying Journalism, Digital Studies and Social Justice in Education. Do you agree that campus is not accessible enough to those with physical disabilities? Let us know at

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