“The Heights.” “Million Dollar Stairs.” “Chestnut Hill.” “Upper, Middle, Lower.” Boston College is built on levels, so much so that it has, to an extent, become part of our identities. Walking up and down the stairs around campus may seem like a built-in workout to some, but it can actually pose a mountainous challenge to people with physical disabilities. For Abilities Awareness Week, I decided to put our campus’s accessibility to the test by going without stairs for a day. I documented it all on social media, via The Gavel’s Instagram story.
Right off the bat, I could tell my “stairless” day was going to be a challenge. I live on an upper floor of Kostka Hall, one of the few dorms on Upper campus that lacks an elevator. Were I a freshman with mobility impairments, I would not be able to live on the second or third floor of Kostka, or any upper floor in the dorms without elevators on Upper or Newton campus.
One of Upper’s primary chokepoints is the stairs. To get from Upper to Middle campus without using the stairs, you have to go to the far end of Fitzpatrick Hall, out of the gate, and onto Hammond Street. Going from my dorm to Mac via the stairs usually takes me about two minutes, but going to and from the same place via Hammond Street took me about seven minutes. Adding to the challenges, there is a steep dip in the road right before you reach the gate. Since the street is only a sidewalk’s length away from that ledge, the challenge of going from Upper to Middle campus for someone with a physical disability is only heightened.
If you have ever been to Mac, you know that the main doors at the top and bottom of the building have a small set of stairs that lead up to them. What’s most ironic is that these entrances, which both have automatic handicap doors, have no ramps. Since there is no ramp, the only option is to go down Beacon Street and through the doors on the side of the first floor by the Bank of America ATMs. After entering, I had to find the elevator and go up to the third floor in order to finally reach the main dining room.
None of my classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday require the use of an elevator, but between my 10 a.m. class and 1 p.m. classes I decided to study in O’Neill. I chose to take the Comm Ave parking garage elevator to point out that the only direct way to get from Middle to Lower campus—or vice versa—is by using a parking garage elevator. Yes, it is possible to get there by using two different elevators in O’Neill and Maloney, but this is the most direct path. Some may think of the Comm. Ave elevator as a way to avoid the thigh-burner that is the Million Dollar Stairs, but for others, it’s the fastest way to get from Middle to Lower.
Even just walking to and from class proved to be challenging. Just like the entrances to Mac, the walkways that cut through the middle of Gasson Quad and Stokes Lawn require you to walk up a few short sets of stairs, which means that a physically-impaired person has to use the accessible path that traces around the outside of each quad, making my travel more maze-like.
All of this proved the extent to which BC's campus is not accommodating to students with physical disabilities. The structure and layout of the campus is unwelcoming and difficult to navigate without using stairs. Before this experiment, I had the sense that our campus was lacking in its accessibility features, but physically putting myself in that position opened my eyes to the severity of the situation.
I encourage everyone to try this sometime, be it on or off of campus. I guarantee that you will realize how our school and society can easily improve the lives of people with physical disabilities by being more accommodating.