Access for All

As I watched the wide-eyed new students timidly trailing behind their revisit hosts, I vividly remembered my first night at Andover, squirming around on my revisit host’s bedroom floor in both anxiety and anticipation. The following day, I shadowed my host eagerly, meeting all of her friends and teachers. The point of spending a day at Andover was, for me as well as many other students, an opportunity to get a better feel for the Andover campus and determine our compatibility with Andover. At least, that’s what I thought.

Revisit days this year allowed me to see that Andover isn’t the place for everyone, especially for those who aren’t able-bodied. Recently, I saw a revisit host and that student’s guest struggling to maneuver around campus as the student wheeled the guest to and from classes. While the revisiting student wasn’t disabled as much as injured, seeing the difficulties she had getting around campus made me reflect on how our campus, which presumably assesses students based on merit, fails to accommodate physically disabled or injured students well.

While I cannot speak for those with physical disabilities since I have the privilege of being able-bodied, I do think the considerable distance between buildings on campus excludes physically disadvantaged students. This problem is unique in that almost everyone on campus is able-bodied and is not affected by this issue. But, simply because an issue does not affect all of us doesn’t make it any less of an issue. It’s unfair that I could, in theory, live in any female dorm on campus, while a physically handicapped female could only live in Adams Hall, Paul Revere Hall, or in Isham – the only female dorms with elevators. It’s unfair that I don’t have to think twice about entering any academic building, while a student who isn’t able-bodied would have to use more extraneous and time-consuming ways to access a building.

By failing to cater to physically disabled students, Andover becomes a place that embraces only able-bodied students, rather than those who can thrive academically and socially on campus. Andover prides itself for its need-blind policy, which allows dedicated, talented students to attend Andover regardless of socioeconomic class. However, for those who cannot satisfy the sports requirement and for those who cannot travel from Cochran Chapel to Morse Hall in less than ten minutes, receiving an Andover education seems less feasible.

Luckily, we can take action now to help disabled students access Andover’s campus more easily. For example, we can offer access to entrances such as the door  found on the way to the girl’s locker room at the bottom of the ramp near Borden Gym, which is usually locked, to students with Blue Cards, allowing students with physical disabilities to enter buildings without having to take detours. Moreover, Andover should continue to support the Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring (DREAM) club.  I encourage both students and faculty to partake in DREAM’s goal of spreading awareness of mental and physical disabilities on campus so that they can understand how to truly embrace students with disabilities.

Andover should be an available and viable option for every high-achieving student who wants to attend, regardless of physical ability. We claim that we are a school that accepts “Youth from Every Quarter.” But, are we really as inclusive as we claim to be?