In Depth

Handicapped at Andover: Navigating the Physical and Academic Terrain

When Alice Hoffman ’11 received that thick envelope postmarked from 01810 last spring, she was as ecstatic as any other newly -admitted student. She was an athlete, playing field hockey, basketball and softball. She looked forward to putting on the Andover blue and taking advantage of the other opportunities at PA like squash and yoga. But Alice’s expectations soon changed. At the start of June, Alice first had difficulty walking and then had to begin using crutches. By the end of the month, her walking ability restricted her to a wheelchair. She called the events of June “really fast” and “degenerative.” When Alice was 12 years old, she was diagnosed with a condition for which she needed steroid treatments. The steroids, while effective at treating her condition, began to cause arthritis in her shoulders and hip. Alice stopped taking the steroids when she and her doctor realized the side effects. Alice always knew that there was the possibility of losing her ability to walk but said that she never really thought it would happen. There was no question in Alice’s mind that she would still attend Andover even after she began using a wheelchair. Alice says, “I got in. I’m still going.” Before the Blue Keys were screaming at the corner of Salem Street, Alice arrived at Andover to become familiar with the campus. She tried out different paths to classes on her wheelchair. Alice says that a lot of her time Fall Term was spent “just getting everything intact.” Alice uses an electric wheelchair and charges it nightly in her dorm by plugging it into the wall. While her power chair has proved effective on the terrain of Andover, the snow has been difficult. She describes seeking alternate routes as a result of snow accumulation. Alice says, “When it’s really bad weather a lot of times handicapped ramps are clogged.” She explains in detail the route she takes after Wednesday All-School Meetings. Winter Term, Alice decided to become more involved with clubs. She joined Philomathean Society. At the first meeting she attended, she had not realized that the club met in the debate room of Bulfinch Hall. She describes two boys lifting her chair up into the building so that she could attend the meeting. “Their hands had cuts all over them,” she says. Though she was pleased that the boys had offered to help, Philomathean has now relocated to the Unobskey Room for easier access. Alice fulfills the athletic requirement by going to New England Rehab each week for physical therapy. Next term she will begin doing her physical therapy with Brian Cox, Head Athletic Trainer. She says she wishes that she could participate in sports at school. Alice says that when applying to Andover she “was definitely looking forward to trying new sports.” Alice applied to Andover because her sister also attended prep school. She sheepishly admits, “My sister went to Exeter.” She applied to five other boarding schools, but liked Andover the best. Alice attended Annunciation Orthodox in Houston Texas, a Greek Orthodox school, for middle school. Annunciation Orthodox is a very religious school that she says she attended for “the top-rate education.” Along with cultural differences, she mentions the difference in weather. Alice says, “It’s freezing here.” Walking may be in the near future for Alice. If she receives a hip replacement this summer, as she is hoping, she will regain some ability to walk. Alice lives in a three-story house in Houston and her bedroom is on the third floor. Her family made no major renovations when she became wheelchair bound, but is now planning to move her bed and a television down to the first floor. Alice says “[When I’m home,] everyday is ‘how am I going to get here or there?’” Coming to Andover was a big step for Alice after only having been in a wheelchair for three months prior to matriculation. In late August she corresponded with Patricia Davison, Coordinator of Student Disability Resources at Andover. Alice lives in the recently renovated Isham dormitory, which is fully accessible. The Office of Physical Plant made sure that her room was across from the bathroom and made the door to her room automated. Alice says, “The school has been very accommodating.” While her housing situation is comfortable, socially, Alice has experienced some difficulties because of her handicap. Alice says “[Being in a wheelchair] does prohibit me socially. Social events need to be planned in advanced. It takes a lot more work for me to do things socially.” Alice was unable to attend the Fall Andover/Exeter Athletic contests because the school was uneasy about her bringing her manual chair and boarding the school bus. Alice has been able to travel home each break but follows a specific regimen. Because she is unable to bring her electric chair with her, she uses her manual chair. The same limousine company picks her up from Andover each break to drive her to Logan Airport. Once she arrives at Logan, the Red Cab brings her to her gate for departure and she checks her manual chair. On the plane, she is provided with a specific seat for people using wheelchairs. Alice thinks Andover could accommodate more disabled students, but she is not sure most handicapped students would want to enroll at Andover. Alice says, “It’s still really hard day to day if you are not the type of person to say, ‘I need this.’” Alice describes navigating around desks and backpacks haphazardly left on the ground in Uncommons. She misses the independence of walking. “If I drop something on the ground, I can’t just pick it up.” Before Commons renovations began, in order to access the upper-level dining halls or the Ryley Room, she would go through the kitchen and use a freight elevator. She says with a smile, “The people in the kitchen really got to know me.” Maneuvering in the Ryley Room was a struggle for Alice. Though she frequently went to the Ryley Room during Fall Term, she had some difficulties. She animatedly reenacts asking peers to “get out of the way” when the crowd was too dense to navigate. Alice says, “Fall Term was really hard. I was still getting adjusted. Winter Term is much better. I’ve found more of a group and I know what I am doing.”