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Accessibility at CHS


The Centers for Disease Control defines disability as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” Despite it already being difficult to exist as a disabled person, negligence in the design of public spaces has made it difficult for disabled people to leave the house and go to school and work. This further worsens the issues that disabled people face, often worsening already fragile financial situations. Disability is a leading cause of homelessness in the United States. We cannot allow this ignorance of accessibility to continue any longer.

The United Nations discussed in their 2030 Sustainability Pledge that disabled people must be able to participate as citizens to make our world more sustainable fully. While this makes it sound like we are making good progress, effective changes have yet to be implemented in many public spaces, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations are not well enforced.

Accessibility has a profound impact on how disabled people interact with the world. Disabled people have just as much of a right to access public spaces as non-disabled people, especially considering they are the largest marginalized group in the country. A Scottish research paper about invisible disabilities states: “As a result of aging, increasing survivorship from disease, and better treatment regimens, more people have disabilities than ever before” (Hendry et. al.)

Sylvie Swerdlow, a Class of ‘22 alumnus, shares their thoughts on the issues they face as a disabled person. “If something isn’t independently accessible, then it’s not accessible. So if the student can’t get a key and access the elevator when they need to, like if they need a teacher to go with them, then that’s not accessible.”

The elevator at Community is only one example of inaccessibility for disabled students. The biggest obstacles are construction and the stairs. Dani Fohrman, a junior, expresses their frustration with the stairs: “…certain staff members can be very insensitive to these issues [such as] the fact that my physical disability is invisible, and don’t take it seriously. So even though I can use the stairs, it can still be excruciating, [so] I’d much rather use the elevator.”

Being ignored because your disability is not visible is a common experience of disabled people, especially younger people. “Visibility is commonly used as a marker of disability existence by those around the individual, meaning that those with invisible disabilities (also referred to as hidden disabilities, non-apparent disabilities and sometimes invisible illnesses) often go unnoticed or are not believed about their difficulties” (Hendry et. al.).

Invisible disabilities refer to any significant life-altering health issues. Examples include sleep disorders, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, mental disorders, fibromyalgia (an illness characterized by severe widespread pain and a heightened response to pressure), and Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS; similar to fibromyalgia but more commonly used to describe widespread pain in children).

Fohrman has AMPS and anemia. “I have not been able to get a job due to my chronic illnesses. “…I do experience a lot of fatigue…So that’s been like a major roadblock in just me getting a job at all. And it is scary [to think about] college with my medical issues.” He will likely stay in-state for college to more easily pay medical bills. When asked what they would like educators and peers to know about their disability, Fohrman said, “There’s no such thing as looking disabled, exactly. I’m not faking [my disability].”

Another roadblock in accessibility is getting diagnosed. Many invisible illnesses, such as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and Lupus, are difficult to diagnose due to their generic symptoms. These illnesses are diagnosed after eliminating other illnesses as the cause of symptoms, so their diagnosis can take years. As a teenager who is trying to balance school, work, friends, and college applications, chronic illness symptoms and fighting for a diagnosis are exhausting.

I know this from personal experience, as I have been dealing with sleep issues, chronic fatigue, and muscular pain for years with no explanation as to why I have these symptoms. The numerous doctor’s appointments, the waiting, and the lack of answers are endlessly frustrating. Please have patience with and be understanding of your peers with chronic illnesses. It’s more likely than not that you don’t know that your disabled peers are struggling, as the most common disabilities are invisible.

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