The University Record, February 13, 1995

Student urges U community to think about wheelchair access

Student urges U community to think about wheelchair access

By Rebecca A. Doyle

It's not that people don't care, Susan Purdy says, it's just that they don't always think.

Purdy, a third-year psychology major, has been wheelchair-bound for 15 years and is frustrated by people who park in spaces reserved for those with handicap tags "just for a minute," with those who plow out parking lots and driveways and leave the snow piled in front of her car door, and with construction companies that tear up sidewalks so that those in wheelchairs can't access classroom buildings.

"Once they had torn up the walks and built ramps so that I couldn't get from my classes back to my apartment," Purdy says. "The University is very good at trying to accommodate people with disabilities, but when changes are made they sometimes don't plan ahead, don't know there are wheelchairs in the area, or just don't think about how we're going to be able to get through. We need to come up with a contact person. It's just a lack of foresight."

Her North Campus apartment building has one curb-cut entrance next to handicap parking, but it is often blocked by cars belonging to parents who are picking up their children from day care. Once, Purdy says, while she was waiting to get in her parking spot, she said something to the parent who had blocked her way.

"She told me that I would only be inconvenienced for a few minutes," Purdy says. "But I've been sitting in this wheelchair 15 years--and that's enough 'inconvenience' all by itself!"

Purdy is a student representative on the Accessibility Task Force, a group that meets monthly to discuss such issues as parking, restrooms and access to buildings and materials. Through the task force, fliers will be distributed to those with children at the day care facility warning them that parking in handicap access spots could net them a $100 fine, the amount the University now levies for unauthorized parking in those restricted areas.

In addition to her classes and work on the task force, Purdy finds time to volunteer at the U-M Hospitals and is a peer counselor at the Center for the Education of Women (CEW). She also is the first recipient of the Ann Frances Millman scholarship, awarded last spring by CEW. The scholarship was established by the Sheila M. and Hughes L. Potiker Family Foundation in honor of her mother, a Detroit area realtor.

As both a peer counselor and hospital volunteer in rehabilitation, Purdy often talks with others who have conditions that limit their mobility. "One of the first things I tell people who are wheelchair-bound is that they should never take an 8 a.m. class in the winter," she says. "Between the cold and trying to maneuver in the snow, moving around in the winter is just not easy."

Purdy and other members of the task force ask those with unrestricted mobility and senses to think before they use special equipment or restricted areas, and to try to visualize what it would be like:

• To have only one parking spot in the whole lot that was large enough for you to park in and still get your wheelchair out the door.

• To have only one stall in a rest-room that your chair will fit in.

• To only be able to get a drink at one water fountain and have it plugged with gum or paper.

• To always have to sit at the back of the lecture hall and strain to listen because you can't get down the stairs to sit in the front.

• To have to travel two blocks out of your way to find a curb-cut free of snow and ice.