Saturday, February 9, 2008

Essay Contest Winner

Below is the winning essay by Jeromie Ballreich for the 1800Wheelchair Scholarship, explaining how campuses can improve access for students with disabilities:

Inclusion is the best general advice for my college’s faculty and administration, and for any college to be inclusive I suggest the following.

First, the administration and faculty need to free themselves from the mentality that making a campus fully accessible is a financial burden. Accessibility is, and should be seen as, an asset to a college for many reasons. Eliminating the physical barriers allows students with disabilities to become part of the student body and encourages diversity amongst the students. Increasing diversity not only allows students with disabilities a fair chance at a higher education but also allows able-bodied students to gain from the disabled perspective. Diversity is a priority that many colleges pursue so allowing students with disabilities access to the entire campus is just one way of pursuing diversity. An accessible campus allows the college to provide an educational environment to a wider array of students and, as I have learned in economics, it is always beneficial to increase one’s market size.

Second, a college’s administration and faculty need to approach accessibility and assisting students with disabilities in a holistic manner. I suggest considering the full 24 hours in a day when a college looks to assist students with disabilities. Schools should focus not only on accessibility of the main academic buildings but also on other areas of student life. For example, a college should look to see if their gym equipment is accessible; does the school have transportation that accommodates a wheelchair for field trips; are there proper student employment options available for deaf students? These are just a few examples for a school to look at when using a holistic approach to assisting students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities provide new perspectives, different experiences, and diversity to a college campus. College’s faculty and administration need to recognize these assets and provide an accessible campus, inclusive student life options, and proper support for students with disabilities.

Jeromie Ballreich is a student at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Jeromie began school able-bodied and says he never thought much about accessibility until an auto accident that left him with two broken vertebrae. Since then, he’s become an advocate for disabled students, working to raise awareness and improve facilities at his school. He was recently appointed to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities. Jeromie’s winning essay called for a holistic approach to assisting students with disabilities, “Employment, athletic events, social events—being a student is more than going to class,” he says. congratulates Jeromie and is proud to give voice to these important issues.