Last winter, Engineering sophomore Sam Greeley developed a severe case of Achilles tendinitis, an ankle injury confining her to crutches for weeks, adding unexpected challenges to her daily life.
After receiving attention from the University of Michigan Hospital, Greeley was not informed of the accommodations available to her from Services for Students with Disabilities. It was not until two days after her hospital visit that she learned about the services available to students with temporary conditions.
“I wasn’t given any contact information for a ride or a cab (from the hospital),” Greeley said. “While you are mostly mobile on crutches, travelling just down the hallway, especially in the beginning, was very tiresome.”
In 2015-2016, 108 students were registered with temporary disabilities, according to the SSD Annual Report. When students injure themselves, they face an unanticipated number of challenges when confined to crutches, wheelchairs and others walking aids. All services are free to students.
Nursing sophomore Madison Farmer broke her ankle during the winter of 2016 and was put on crutches. She wasn’t aware of SSD until four days after her injury.
“I was (using Uber to go) to all of my classes, but that got very expensive and so someone told me about Services for Students with Disabilities,” Farmer said.
SSD offers a number of services to students with temporary disabilities, including Paratransit, which provides a free ride to students with disabilities around campus, and adjustable furniture, to ease the pain of injuries and accommodate any student.
SSD Director Stuart Segal his office could improve communication about its services. Often, students with permanent or temporary disabilities remain unaware of the services available to them.
“I have to admit, this is one area where I think we could do a better job because this not only concerns students with temporary disabilities, this concerns students with all the disabilities,” Segal said. “It breaks my heart when I talk to a senior, who has been here four or five years, finally somehow makes it here and gets the accommodations and they look at me and they say: ‘Jeez I wish I knew you guys were here four years ago.’ ”
Despite this, Segal said his area of knowledge and day-to-day work revolved more around accommodating students with learning disabilities. Segal said Dan Measel, an SSD coordinator for students with chronic health conditions and visual and mobility impairments, oversees students with temporary disabilities within the office; however, Measel could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
In some cases, SSD services were inadequate to meet the needs of students. Greeley struggled to do laundry and she and Farmer had trouble into the dining hall. SSD does not assist students with these tasks, according to their website.
“You can’t hold any plates,” Greeley said. “There were days if my roommate or my friends didn’t have a break where they could come back to the dining hall and help me out … there were days that I didn’t eat until seven o’clock at night.”
Farmer agreed, saying the University could provide an alternative dining experience.
“I really wish I would’ve been able to have unlimited to-go meals and have someone actually bring them to my dorm,” Farmer said. “It would’ve been a 10-minute process instead of a 45-minute process to get a bowl of cereal.”
To access the dining hall in Bursley, Farmer had to take an unconventional route.
“I had to go to the service elevator, where people would drop food deliveries, which took me up through the kitchen and then I had to go through the kitchen to get to the dining hall,” Famer said. “Which, I mean, when you’re on crutches, seems a little dangerous because you don’t know if the floor is wet.”
Farmer included that she had a tough time showering and eating due to a lack of handicap access to the dining hall.
“I actually ended up sitting on my longboard and my friends pushed me across the entire building to get to the handicap shower,” Farmer said.
A foot injury leading to an ankle boot confined LSA freshman Gabi de Coster the first week of the fall semester while living in Mary Markley Residence Hall. Once winter began, de Coster worked with housing and eventually moved to South Quad to avoid the long walk from the hill while she was still in a boot. At this point, de Coster took advantage of the Paratransit services offered by SSD.
“I never met with anyone physically, but I did make a phone call asking about my options … so I could get in touch with Paratransit,” de Coster said.
For many students with temporary disabilities, once they reached out to SSD, many of their needs were met. Simply receiving a ride around campus at students’ convenience made their experience much better.
LSA sophomore Natalie Jackson, who broke her leg in November 2015, wrote in an email interview Paratransit services helped her get around to almost everywhere she went during the winter.
“I had to go to physical therapy and every morning there was a car that picked me up and took me there,” Jackson wrote.
Due to the high demand of Paratransit services, Blue Cab, a private taxi service which services Ann Arbor and surrounding areas, is often used in place of Paratransit when there aren’t enough cars to get students to where they need to be.
Segal said SSD only coordinates rides between students and Paratransit.
“Paratransit is run through transportation, not SSD,” Segal said. “Our only role in Paratransit is that students sort of register with us.”
Farmer took advantage of Paratransit, but found it difficult to use on short notice.
“(Paratransit) was good,” Farmer said. “It was easy to know that’s my bus, or that’s my Blue Cab, and it’s convenient to get to and from Bursley, where I lived. It was kind of a pain to call 30 minutes in advance if I wanted to go to lunch with my friends.”
LSA freshman Shelby Young, who broke her ankle in the fall of 2016, disagreed with Farmer about Blue Cab in an email interview.
“The drivers were always rude and often were reckless drivers, cars often had cigarette butts scattered around the floor, and a few times I was offended by the comments the drivers made toward me or the person I had along for movement help,” Young wrote.
Often due to the traffic going through Ann Arbor, students who took advantage of Paratransit services were sometimes late to classes. The SSD Faculty Handbook outlines the exceptions that should be made for students with disabilities.
“If breaks between classes are short, a student with a mobility impairment may be a few minutes late,” the handbook reads. “Often the student must wait for an elevator, take a circuitous (but accessible) route, wait for assistance in opening doors, and maneuver along crowded paths and corridors.”
The University does have a policy regarding student lateness if due to a disability and short break times between classes, through the handling of this varies from professor to professor. Greeley personally had no issues working with professors over tardiness and accommodations.
“The professors themselves were very understanding,” Greeley said. “They really worked with me to make something that worked for both of us.”
Despite some of the bad experiences students had with SSD and Paratransit, many were thankful that the services were available to them. In addition, some students interviewed expressed that though living with their injury for a few months was challenging, they became more sympathetic to those confined to wheelchairs and similar permanent situations.
“I am grateful that I have experienced this however; I am now much more open-minded and empathetic toward those in similar situations, especially those that are in a state of permanent disability,” Young wrote.