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Disability accessibility — It is all very well and good that there is a debate about whether Storm P's mural on A-vej on Frederiksberg Campus is racist. But I wonder when we can dare take on a debate over how the whole building is ableist.
I am a former student at Frederiksberg Campus who, halfway through my study programme, became a wheelchair user following a working accident. It comes as a surprise to me that we can debate whether a mural is offensive to one minority, but we have not yet discussed the fact that another minority – namely people with mobility disabilities – do not even have access to see the painting at all.
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I think it is perfectly reasonable to discuss the future of the mural. But I look forward to the day when the complete lack of ramps, lifts and disabled toilets on A-vej sets off just as much outrage as the mural does. Because if we expect people with disabilities to take part in society and educate themselves, why do we accept that they are not given access to the Friday bar on Frederiksberg Campus? Or the Gimle canteen? Or half of the classrooms?
I think it is perfectly reasonable to discuss the future of the mural. But I look forward to the day when the complete lack of ramps, lifts, and disabled toilets on A-vej sets off just as much outrage as the mural does.
I hope one day we will talk about ableism in the same way we talk about racism. Because even though it’s been 69 years since Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, my minority still does not have access to board the buses in Copenhagen in 2024.
We discuss the need for gender-neutral toilets so that all gender identities can go to the bathroom in a dignified way. But I think about all the times I’ve had to crawl along a soiled toilet floor to get to the toilet because there wasn’t a disabled toilet and the door to the regular toilet was too narrow for the wheelchair.
But we don’t talk about that as discrimination. This is just the reality that members of my minority have to come to terms with.
I once asked management when I can expect all buildings at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) to be wheelchair accessible. The rector replied that these were old, preservation-worthy, buildings and that there were no concrete plans to create accessibility at UCPH. But when the Italians can build elevators in the Coliseum and ramps in Pompeii, then we can also ensure disability accessibility at the University of Copenhagen if we want to.
But when the Italians can build elevators in the Coliseum and ramps in Pompeii, then we can also ensure disability accessibility at the University of Copenhagen if we want to.
If we do not want to do it because it is the right thing to do, perhaps we could do it because it makes economic sense. I believe that there is a good chance that investing in accessibility will encourage more students with disabilities to complete their studies. And this will in turn give them access to a wider range of job opportunities.
It makes intuitive sense to me that the motivation to keep up with your studies increases if you have the opportunity to keep up with your classmates in the canteen or go to the Friday bar. In the same way, it increases your sense of belonging if you don’t have to bother a busy lecturer by figuring out where to change your clothes if you can’t get into the cloakroom in the basement like all the other students.
If you now think that I am looking for alterations that will accommodate only a few students, then I will remind you that lack of accessibility is a vicious circle: The need may seem less than it really is. If you never see a wheelchair user on campus, you probably assume that the need is not there. But the reason you do not see wheelchair users is, of course, because their needs have not been met.
The need is there – to a high degree. But accessibility issues are so extensive that, compared with the background population, far fewer people with disabilities study, work, and have Friday drinks on campus.
So the next time you see a staircase without an elevator, remember that when you go up the stairs, you will find yourself in a world where a certain minority is sorted out. Not because they don’t exist, but because they don’t have access.
It is my hope that the students who succeed me will not feel excluded from the community. Neither due to murals nor the lack of ramps.