Snowpocalypse in Ann Arbor didn’t turn out to be quite the weather emergency it was expected to be. And to many students’ disappointment, the University’s Ann Arbor campus stayed open. Most students braved the snow and trudged to class, but for those with disabilities, the day was a struggle. It’s commendable that the University wants to continue to have classes and is committed to giving its students the best possible education. But the University needs to make sure that all students — especially students with disabilities — can safely attend classes in inclement weather.
According to a Feb. 3 Daily article, there is miscommunication between the University and the city about plowing after snow storms. Often, the University plows the sidewalks and then the city plows the streets. But this blocks the sidewalks with snow piles and doesn’t allow for wheelchair access to the sidewalk, even though the sidewalk itself has been shoveled. And when the snow piles up along the curbs, it’s difficult for students in wheelchairs to use the wheelchair lifts on their cars. Disabled students have the opportunity to use Paratransit Services, a University transportation system, but they said in the article that they still have trouble getting to class.
The University had plenty of time to prepare for last week’s storm, and there was adequate time to communicate with city snow removal services to coordinate plans for handling the storm. The University should have made sure that students with disabilities knew their transportation options. There were days to plan alternative ways for wheelchair-bound students to get to their classes, but many students still had to miss class because they were unable to physically get there.
Sidewalks in front of academic and residential buildings need to be a priority for snow removal. The University should work with private companies if there is too much snow to clear. Students should be able to get from their place of residence to their classes, even if they are in a wheelchair. It’s the University’s responsibility to make sure campus sidewalks are cleared.
Bad weather is dangerous for all students, especially those with disabilities. If the sidewalks can’t be adequately cleared to allow every student to attend class safely, the University should close. If the University chooses not to close and students are expected to attend class, they should be able to get there without endangering themselves. The University remains open because it’s not a commuter school, but it has forgotten that students still have to brave the weather and walk to class. Clearing the roads but pushing snow onto the sidewalks isn’t a solution on a campus where most students — disabled or not — walk to class.
The University has a responsibility to ensure the safety of students as they make their way to class. If the University is going to choose to remain open during times of bad weather, it needs to do a better job of keeping the sidewalks clear and helping all students travel safely to class.