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'I deserve an education': Carolina for Every Body event calls for accessibility on campus

First-year Laura Saavedra-Forero is a disabled UNC student and has been denied accessible housing. She gained attention through an Instagram post calling out the University on their housing accessibility problems.

Dozens of UNC community members gathered in front of the South Building, holding posters with slogans reading “Accessibility is not an extra step, it’s a step you missed,” and “Disabled and proud.”

The April 27 gathering was part of the Campus Y’s Carolina for Every Body event held to protest inaccessibility on campus.

Campus Y co-presidents Laura Saavedra Forero and Megan Murphy organized the event.

“Disability will affect every single one of us in our lifetimes, whether due to older age, injury, illness, etcetera, and our ability to do things will never stay consistent,” Saavedra Forero said. “So with that being said, I still can’t wrap my head around why people aren’t caring and why a University with so many individuals who claims to care about its students is not caring.”

Saavedra Forero and Murphy gave speeches to the crowd, as did Eleanor Bolton, the co-leader of the Disability Advocates Committee and an executive board member for the Campus Y.

“From the first day I got here, I realized I was not a priority here at UNC,” Bolton, who uses a power wheelchair, said at the beginning of her speech.

The speeches highlighted University shortcomings regarding accessibility. 

Saavedra Forero, who also uses a wheelchair, said she had been told to find off-campus housing after she approached the University about her inaccessible fourth-floor dorm. In February, Saavedra Forero was trapped in her room for days when the elevators in her dorm broke. It took several hours for emergency responders to evacuate Saavedra Forero from her dorm so that she could go to Campus Health. 

“Club events, athletic games and any activity that is a big part of the Carolina experience is simply just not accessible for us,” Bolton said. “From the first day and drinking from the Old Well to seniors who sign in the Bell Tower – every single event that makes Carolina 'Carolina' is just not accessible for students like me.”

After the organizers spoke, they opened the floor for attendees to share their own stories. Several attendees came forward and spoke of how they have been personally impacted by the lack of accessibility on campus.

Speakers detailed the struggles of living on a campus where accessible routes take substantially longer, elevator malfunctions are commonplace, accommodations are frequently denied and a lack of snow plowing makes it impossible to use wheelchair ramps.

While students recounted their respective difficult experiences, attendees also enjoyed the sense of community at the event.

“I love seeing everyone, like, either able bodies or disabled bodies, all fighting for the same thing,” Carson Loudermelt, an officer in Disability Advocates for Carolina, said. “There’s more people here than I expected, which makes me really excited. I can feel the energy of just like standing up for each other.”

Murphy echoed similar feelings after the event.

“It was honestly really amazing,” she said. “I think this is something Laura and I’ve been talking about, and just to see it come to fruition was really great.”

Additionally, speakers and attendees alike highlighted what they expect from the University in the near future.

“We just want the University to listen,” Loudermelt said. “Just take into account all the differences that we have and just like work with us.”

Murphy added that the University should make more University spaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, adding more ramps and elevators in campus buildings.  

Saavedra Forero said that the college experience should be more equitable for all students.

“I just don’t know why, or honestly, how to justify that I deserve an education, a safe housing situation and an equitable Carolina experience,” she said.

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