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The Daily Tar Heel

Guest column: An indictment of ableism at UNC

This piece uses Identity First Language, which is a preferred identity for many disability activists. For example, disabled person instead of person with disabilities.

I am a disabled student affected by UNC’s rampant ableism. Ableism is the discrimination against disabled people in the favor of able-bodied people. Ever since I transferred into UNC from Wake Tech, ableism against disabled people thrives on campus as a facet of privileges and the prestigious identity associated with being a Tar Heel. 

I have invisible disabilities, among them being fibromyalgia (chronic pain), chronic fatigue syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), two heart conditions and other long-winded condition names. I thought that UNC’s acceptance meant that I’d enjoy my experience with reasonable accommodations, but I was wrong. Disability justice exists nowhere on the mainstream collegiate mindset, including activist circles centered on righting communal injustices. No matter how hard we fight, the collective passivity silences disabled voices. Disabled college students deserve a voice; therefore, I am issuing an indictment of UNC’s institutional ableism:

Students: You balk at my mobility scooter and trip onto me because you “didn’t see me.” When I wheel into class, you refuse to sit anywhere next to me. You doubt my disabilities. You perpetuate ableism through harmful disability stereotypes and meritocratic evaluations. You climb stairs when the elevator is broken. You treat temporary disability as an inconvenience but forget the permanent inconvenience of hostile, inaccessible environments.

Professors: You never take the time to read accommodations. You never give lecture notes in advance. You expect private medical history to qualify and question accommodations. You act as if accommodations give disabled students an ‘unfair’ advantage instead of providing equal access constituted by Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act. You witness other students isolate disabled students in the classroom. You leave out disability in your conversations about intersectionality. You plan events that are inaccessible to disabled students. You hold discretion in attendance policies and punish absence with grade reductions, which harms disabled students trying to maintain their health. 

Administration: You underfund Accessibility Resources & Service while charging for disability parking. You build new fields instead of fixing old elevators, repairing broken automatic doors and leveling chipped, uneven bricks. You spend money on grass refurbishment in winter instead of improving the P2P. Disabled students negotiate their own accommodations because ARS lacks comprehensive support. Your culture of shame around accommodations intimidates students into forfeiting their rights because it takes up ‘resources.’ You tout the message “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” to excuse multiple equal opportunity violations. You reject the disabled identity, preferring a focus on ‘people,’ not disabilities. You undermine disabled students’ struggles because you categorize abled-bodies as a representation of ‘normal.’ 

Have you considered that an inaccessible campus weeds out disabled people from UNC? Assembling a ramp at the Old Well for one week isn’t justice, but a cruel reminder that you sometimes do the bare minimum. We deserve better than your innate disdain for disabled people. 

The judgment faced because of outdated disability stereotypes hurts. If this is what Carolina stands for, I am not a proud Tar Heel. I am a proud, disabled person.

In solidarity,

Erika Christiana

English & Comparative Literature and Sociology

Cary, N.C.

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