October 13, 2004

Inspired Access

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My mother has a way of delivering news, and this Monday was no exception.

“Good morning sweetie,” she chirped at me, strolling into my room to wake me up at the ungodly hour of 1 p.m. “I made some pancakes, some bacon, and oh — Christopher Reeve is dead.”

I sat up, blinking in the awkward silence.

“Oh, and I made some pancakes with chocolate chips,” she added, turning and leaving my room.

It was vintage mom, really, right up there with the time she started mixing Bloody Marys for some friends I brought home for Spring break. How do you respond to that?

What are you supposed to say? I mumbled something to ease the awkward tension, slid a shirt on, and headed downstairs. There were pancakes to be eaten, and several things to think about.

The lyrics to “The Hill,” an old favorite among Cornell’s older classes, that runs “I pray that I, before I die, may tread the Hill again.” Obviously it must have been several years since Reeve walked on Cornell’s campus (he graduated in 1974, so he was here with other notables such as Bill Nye ’77, and our current president), and I began to wonder when he had last even visited Cornell. Was it at a reunion? Was it for Homecoming? With a campus this expansive and handicap-adverse, how would he have even been able to get around in his later condition? Could he have done so this weekend?

“There are handicapped accesible bathrooms in the Crescent. –Steve Erber” read the message in my inbox this afternoon. I like Steve, but knowing the administration, I wanted to check things out for myself. Good thing I did.

Erber was correct … sort of. There are exactly three handicap accessible bathrooms in Schoellkopf Field: two women’s and one men’s stall. The one women’s stall was out of the way, and all the way at the South end of the stadium, a brisk five-minute walk for me. There was also no handicapped seating in the area, so it didn’t seem to serve its purpose very well. For everyone but the freshmen, you’ll probably remember the giant ramp entrance to the Crescent. Those who were wheel chair bound normally sat along the front rail, after descending into the stadium via the ramp. The ramp is torn up now, but when back in place it will provide an area for handicapped fans to watch the game.

There’s just one problem. Actually, make that 82 of them.

Between the bottom rail of the crescent, and the nearest handicapped accessible bathrooms, there are exactly 82 steps. That means disabled fans need to wheel themselves back out of the crescent, around the back end of the Schoellkopf parking lot, and finally back into the stadium through the back gates. When done, they could wheel to the nearest handicapped seating by reversing the trip they just made. I guess Erber is right, the facilities are accessible (or as Erber spelled it accesible), just not very handicapped friendly.

In his 1996 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Reeve reminded us of the great lessons of FDR, a man who battled his own demons and disabilities.

“…the most important principle that FDR. taught us: America does not let its needy citizens fend for themselves.”

Too bad Cornell does.

I’ll never forget sitting in Schoellkopf, watching the men’s lacrosse team during last spring’s NCAA quarterfinals. I was enjoying the game, my mom was looking on confusedly, and my dad was eating a hot dog. In the front row, however, there was a woman in the wheel chair, asking where the nearest handicapped bathroom was. When she heard the answer, she was outraged. I hope now you are, too.

Matt Janiga is a Sun staff writer. No. 12 Bus will appear every other Wednesday this semester.

Archived article by Matt Janiga