Accessibility at Tufts: For students with physical disabilities, the Hill is far from an ideal campus

A sign in the Science and Engineering Center elevator directing users to an accessible route to Anderson and Robinson's third floor is pictured on Mar 12, 2018. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

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[Video ID: Title sequence for this article. Splitscreen video featuring elevators around campus and, on the other side, stairs around campus. They count off until there are no more elevators, but the stairs keep cycling long safter the elevators finish. Title: Accessibility at Tufts: For students with physical disabilities, the Hill is far from an ideal campus. Reporting by Ray Bernoff and Liam Knox; Graphics/Animation by Sitong Zhang and Ray Bernoff; Photos by Ray Bernoff; Video by Annette Key and Ana Sophia Acosta]

When senior computer science (CS) major Sam Slate hurt his leg playing basketball the summer of his sophomore year, he thought he’d be back to normal in no time. But what seemed like a simple injury turned into chronic pain that makes it hard for him to walk or stand. As his injury developed into a disability, he’s had to relearn how to get around campus safely, and asking for help from Tufts administration was harder than he’d hoped. From a handicap parking pass to access to academic buildings, Slate has struggled to get what he needs to succeed here.

“I came back to campus and had this new injury to take care of alongside everything else, and have been fighting against this university ever since,” he said.

Like Slate, senior Leah Holden is majoring in CS. She was majoring in English too, until a broken foot at the beginning of her junior spring forced her to drastically cut her workload. When Holden went to Health Services after tripping on uneven ground, they wrapped her foot, gave her crutches and advised her to drop out or take a leave of absence.

“They [Health Service] literally recommended that I drop out of school,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to drop out of college just because I broke my foot!”

Holden spent three months hopping up and down the stairs of Anderson Hall with her crutches. Later, Tufts’ orthopedist told her that she had put too much weight on her foot as it was healing. It will be crooked for the rest of her life unless she chooses to re-break and realign it.

Senior Sidney Beecy had to use crutches to get around campus too. Last May she tore her ACL in an accident at a Sky Zone Trampoline Park. Staff at the hospital she went to told her she needed surgery, but she put it off because she had planned a trip to Iceland she didn’t want to miss, and a paid internship she couldn’t afford to miss. Getting around campus with a torn ACL was harder than she anticipated, especially because she had trouble getting Tufts to let her park on campus.

“I planned to get the surgery right before school so that way I wouldn’t have to miss class. And then I would go back to school, and it would be fine. It was not fine,“ she said. “I hiked around Iceland for two weeks on crutches, and that was less difficult than navigating Tufts. I honestly had an easier time.”

Beecy’s ACL has healed now, but she said the injury made her realize how inaccessible Tufts campus is.

“I think about it every time I have to go up the Memorial Steps, because it’s like, ‘I remember when I couldn’t do this,’” she said.

The Memorial Steps, an iconic Tufts landmark and impassible barrier for students with mobility disabilities, lead from the academic quad to College Ave. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Resumed Education for Adult Learners (REAL) student Jessica Graham didn’t know she had any disabilities when she got to Tufts. When went to Health Services, she found out that the pain, fatigue, and joint instability she’d been living with for her whole life were symptoms of illness rather than something everyone experienced. Now, Graham has names for her health problems: postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), reduced blood volume on standing, which makes her so lightheaded she sometimes faints and passes out; Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a degenerative connective tissue disorder that weakens her joints and makes it hard for her to walk or use her wheelchair to get around campus; fibromyalgia, which causes muscle pain and tenderness; and chronic fatigue syndrome, which makes her so tired she sometimes struggles to get out of bed. Her combination of disabilities means she’s constantly balancing decisions about her health, like whether carrying pillows to class is worth the strain it puts on her shoulders.

“Do I want to have an uncomfortable chair or do I want my shoulder to hurt for the rest of the day? You’re like, ‘Which is gonna be worse?’” she said.

Graham is about to finish her geology degree, but school has been an uphill battle others don’t always realize she’s fighting.

“Just walking to Hodg[don] to get a burrito and coming back is extremely exhausting and I end up having to take a nap afterwards, and I think that’s something people don’t think about,” she said.

Illness and accidents have impaired Slate, Holden, Beecy, and Graham’s mobility. Attending Tufts while injured or disabled has presented challenges they never imagined.

Outdated buildings and inaccessible spaces

There’s no getting around it: if you want to pass your classes, you’ve got to go to them. Even able-bodied students can’t always get to class on time, but they can still get to their classrooms without risking pain and further injury. Walnut Hill, on which Tufts is built, poses an obstacle for everyone, but from stairs and doors to grass and gravel, the campus is full of other obstacles that many students don’t notice.

Most of Graham’s classes are in Lane Hall, which, according to the Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, was built in 1959 for an occupational therapy and physical education school before Tufts bought it to house the geology department. There’s no physical therapy in Lane today, though Graham might appreciate it if there were, especially because Lane doesn’t have an elevator.

“I have classes usually on the bottom floor, meaning I have to go up and down stairs everyday, which is tough for me,” she said. “Stairs are my worst thing. Any sort of incline is really bad for me.”

Stairs are bad for Slate’s leg, too. As a CS teaching assistant one semester, he had an office in the Halligan Hall extension. Areas of the extension’s floor are depressed, with three-stair rises and drops leading up and down, which made it painful for him to get to his job. Slate said the extension was temporary and that Tufts might replace it, hopefully without the extra steps.

According to Interim Director of Capital Programs Gretchen von Grossman, the stairs will stay.

“The addition to Halligan will remain in place for the foreseeable future,” she told the Daily in an email.

This accessible ramp to Eaton Hall, which is labeled “For Employees Only,” is the only way to get into the building without using stairs. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Slate does homework in Eaton Hall’s computer lab and took a class in an Eaton classroom both of which he says were hard to get to. All the students interviewed for this piece also cited Eaton as a particularly inaccessible building. Again, stairs are the main offender; all Eaton’s entrances but one are at the top of a flight of stairs. And Eaton’s lone accessible entrance has its own problem.

“It’s very nice, it’s paved, it’s got handrails, it’s got a little button you can press, and it’s got a sign on the door that says ‘For Employees Only,’” Slate said. “It’s the only one that’s made to be accessible, and it’s locked.”

Whenever Slate went to Eaton, he had to knock on the locked door of the accessible entrance. Lab employees told him he wasn’t allowed to come in the door unless he was a staff member.

“One time I actually had to hold up a sign that said ‘I am disabled, please open this door for me,’” Slate said.

Slate convinced Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to authorize his student ID to unlock the door, but the door remains open for employees only with rare exceptions.

Lydia X. Z. Brown, a disability justice advocate, organizer and writer who taught the class “Rethinking Disability” through the Tufts Experimental College last semester, told the Daily in an electronic message that even though the ADA requires Tufts to provide equal access for everyone, Tufts is likely within its rights to keep the accessible door to Eaton locked.

“My understanding is that it is probably legal for those doors to generally be employee-only (and generally closed to the public), so long as a person with a disability is also permitted to enter through them; however, in practice, this is still a serious access barrier that could be easily remedied through making these entrances available to the public,” Brown wrote.

More access barriers remain inside the building. Slate’s ID now opens the door, but if the computer lab is closed, he can’t get into the rest of the building even when Eaton is open. And there’s no way for him to get off the ground floor without taking the stairs. The basement and second and third floors have the same type of depressions in the floor as the Halligan extension. To use the bathroom during class, Slate had to walk up and down additional steps even though he wasn’t leaving the second floor.

Stairs lead up to Eaton Hall from this approach. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

The ground floor of Eaton hall has a ramp leading from one side of the building to the other. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

A student walks up the stairs to one of Eaton Hall’s rear entrances. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

On other floors, stairs connect the two sides of the building. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)


According to The Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, Tufts built Eaton in 1908 and expanded it in 1950. The ADA standards say if buildings built before 1991 don’t meet ADA requirements and updating the building is not readily achievable, i.e. difficult or expensive, then the owner of the building does not have to modify it to meet ADA requirements until the building requires renovation for another reason. Slate
said he thinks the building’s condition (which he described as “literally falling apart”) and poor accessibility are connected. The 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Standards for Accessible Design mandate that when a building is renovated, 20% of construction costs must be spent on removing accessibility barriers. Removing accessibility barriers could include adding chair lifts or ramps, putting Braille on signs or changing hinges to make doors close more slowly, according to the ADA.

In 2001, renovating Eaton’s computer lab meant Tufts had to remove an accessibility barrier, which they did by adding the ramp to the employees only door. Since then, Tufts has not made any renovations to Eaton significant enough to trigger the barrier-removal mandate. Slate thinks the lack of major renovations despite pieces of decorative plaster molding falling through suspended ceilings into classrooms is not a coincidence.

Eaton Hall is not actually getting the fixes it needs because then they would have to actually make it open for us,” Slate said.

When asked in an email whether Tufts Operations, the administrative division encompassing construction and renovation at Tufts, has chosen not to renovate certain buildings due to the cost of barrier removal, von Grossman did not give a definitive answer.

“The development of the Capital Plan each year balances all of the many needs and priorities on campus and strategizes for a given year and up to four future years how to allocate limited resources,” she wrote, referring to Tufts’ yearly plan for renovations and construction. “Projects of any scope, including those requiring significant resources, can be undertaken with careful and thoughtful planning.”

So, Tufts may not necessarily have renovated Eaton Hall because improving accessibility would be too expensive. But Slate says by not remodeling Eaton, Tufts is sidelining the needs of students with disabilities. Other renovations, including dorms and plans for a new swimming pool facility the Daily reports will cost more than $30 million, have taken precedence. So has the construction of a new $10 million building: the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC).

“In general, new construction costs more, but in some cases is a better investment than renovating old spaces with higher ongoing maintenance and energy costs,” von Grossman wrote.

“I see Tufts as just trying to save money. There’s so few of us [students with disabilities] that they could care less. They just want to…not pay to upgrade the buildings so it’s accessible to everyone,” Slate said.

Brown’s perspective echoes Slate’s. They said that not only does Tufts’ location on the hill present obstacles to accessibility, but management and funding priorities contribute substantially to this as well.

“Tufts is almost entirely physically inaccessible through both its design and its facilities management,” they wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “Tufts needs to commit to doing this work to support its campus community and surrounding neighborhood — yes hills can be a constraint, but Tufts has the money to make accessibility happen if only it wished to do so.”

More buildings, more problems

In October 2017, Tufts opened the SEC, a new building connecting Robinson Hall and Anderson Hall. The building is modern and energy efficient, with a huge plate glass facade and a cafe offering kale smoothies. The main entrance is wheelchair accessible and two elevators serve every floor. The building, since it was built after 1991, meets ADA standards. But Robinson was built in 1900 and Anderson in 1961 according to the Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, and for decades they were inaccessible to disabled or injured students who wanted to get past the first floor.

Two of the three classes Holden took the semester she broke her foot were in Anderson (the other she took online).

“This was pre-elevator in the SEC, so I basically dropped everything that wasn’t in Anderson Hall and lived in Anderson for a semester,” she said. “I packed lunch. I took the bus. I had a class on the 3rd floor. I would show up 45 minutes early, do my classic crutch tuck and scale the stairs. It took like 30 minutes to get up all those stairs.”

These stairs now lead down to the SEC. But in the other direction, they lead to the many flights Holden had to scale on her way to the third floor. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Because the SEC elevators connect to Anderson, disabled and injured students shouldn’t have to take the stairs to class. But it’s not that simple. Slate had a class on the 3rd floor of Anderson last semester. He hoped to take the SEC elevator to the 3rd floor, then walk from SEC to Anderson, but he couldn’t.

“So, Tufts spends three years on the SEC, millions of dollars on the SEC, and the third floor of Anderson is not wheelchair accessible,” he said. “You have to walk through an office from the elevator. You have to walk through an office past everyone to get to it. And you need, again, card access, which it took a while to get. The first time I had a class up there, I was late to class.”

Just like Eaton’s accessible door, the only accessible route to the third floor of Anderson is restricted and requires either a key card or a call to TUPD to enter. Slate was disappointed.

“All this money, for this nice new building…terrible,” he said.

Von Grossman told the Daily that while the university thought about constructing a bridge connecting the SEC with the third floor of Anderson, it abandoned the plan because it was too expensive. She did not mention whether the university considered other options for making all three floors of Anderson accessible via the SEC.

Housing changes increase accessibility, displace residents

According to von Grossman, the university is designing plans for an accessible ground-floor bathroom and entrance for Paige Hall, and will begin remodeling Miller Hall and Houston Hall this year with accessibility in mind.

Tufts will add elevators and accessible entryways to both buildings and increase the number of accessible rooms and beds, according to a Feb. 27 article in the Daily. The Miller and Houston renovations are part of the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife)’s restructuring of housing to accommodate Tufts’ increasing student body, according to a Nov. 17 Daily article. The February article says that Tufts will house students in all of Houston and half of Miller in fall 2018, move half of the students in Houston to Miller in spring 2019, and then completely fill both dorms in fall 2019.

First-years in Miller and Houston are not the only students who will have been disrupted by Tufts’ housing changes. Graham was displaced from her dorm, Fairmont House, during final exams last semester so Tufts could remodel the building for the new undergraduate student housing project at the Capen Street and Winthrop Street intersection. Graham said that even though she’s an undergraduate, Tufts required her to live in graduate housing because she was older than 24.

The entrances to Fairmont all had stairs, so Graham said she could only leave the house on days she felt well enough to use a cane rather than a wheelchair. Still, Graham said she chose to live in Fairmont anyway because it was close to her geology classes and no better housing options were available.

“There’s no accessible grad student housing. None. They all have stairs, every single one,” she said. “I’ve heard there are some undergrad accessible dorms, but none as far as grad students. That really makes me upset.”

The Daily asked SAS director Kirsten Behling whether SAS had ever tried to get a student over 24 placed in accessible undergraduate housing. Behling wrote that SAS can’t talk about specific cases or examples for privacy reasons, but that SAS will work with ResLife for students who have special housing requests.

“We have a wonderful collaborative relationship with the Residential Life office and find them very supportive of students with disabilities,” Behling wrote in an email to the Daily.

Graham, who is registered with SAS, still had to live in graduate student housing, and she had to leave Fairmont because Tufts chose to displace the house’s residents to make way for the undergraduate housing project. Graham said everyone was given a week’s notice to move.

“[T]hey emailed us during finals week, and it was such a sarcastic email. It was like ‘we know you guys are really busy with finals, but its about it get even busier because you’re gonna be moving!’ I had a panic attack and I sent a really angry email, and everyone in my house was the same. There was a girl in tears. Like, even if you aren’t disabled, moving…especially for someone with chronic fatigue syndrome, packing and unpacking is exhausting,” she said.

Graham now lives in McCollester House, a graduate student house which is farther from Lane and only accessible by stairs.

Slate said that many of Tufts’ accessibility problems are related to the age of its buildings and structures, and hopes to see them updated before the ADA requires it.

“If I could force the hand of the university to do one thing, it would be to make the buildings ADA compliant. That’s all you really need to do…and the fact that all of these buildings are grandfathered in and Tufts doesn’t want to do it, that just makes it impossible,” he said. “I get the sense that since it’s only [for] a handful of students, it’s not worth it [to Tufts].”

Stairs in Olin Language Center lead from the basement to the third floor. Fortunately, the building has an elevator as well. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Getting around: inconvenient for some, painful for others

Trying to get an accessible dorm is a challenge, but living off campus can be just as difficult for disabled and injured students.

Holden lives off campus. She used to enjoy the fresh air on the fifteen-minute walk from her her apartment on Boston Ave to Anderson, but the walk became so laborious while she was healing from her broken foot that she needed to bring water and take frequent breaks. She preferred to take the 94 bus or an Uber if she needed to travel more than a short distance. Holden says SAS told her to take Uber around campus if walking with crutches was too hard.

“That’s okay for me because I made enough money over the summer from my internship to do that, but what if you didn’t? That’s not sustainable. You can’t just Uber to class every day,” she said.

Unlike Holden, Slate can’t use Uber very often, especially because he doesn’t know if or when his leg will heal.

“I think for me one of the hardest parts is that I’m on a lot of financial aid and it feels like if you have a disability, especially at Tufts, the way you get around it is you kind of pay for things. If you have money, you can offset the difficulties. You can pay for having a car, you can Uber,” he said. “But for people like me who don’t have that ability, it’s doubly hard because you have to balance decisions of ‘do I hurt myself more, or do I pay money?’”

Instead of taking Uber, Slate uses the bus to get around. He noted that there are almost no benches at the bus stops on campus, and no benches at all on the outbound side of the 80 bus route where he waits to ride to doctor’s appointments in Arlington. No benches means standing to wait for the bus, which means more pain. That in turn means less energy to get through his doctor’s appointments.

Tufts shuttles offer free transportation around some parts of campus and to Davis Square and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. But on the days she can get her wheelchair down the stairs of McAllister, Graham said she hasn’t had the guts to get on a shuttle. SAS told her all shuttles are wheelchair accessible, but because there are almost no wheelchair users on campus, Graham has a feeling the shuttle drivers wouldn’t know what to do if a wheelchair user wanted a ride. On days she needs her wheelchair, she usually stays in or compromises by using her cane. The sidewalks on campus are often crooked or cracked, which make her fall out of the chair.

“With my disability, I dislocate joints really easily, so wheeling up a hill I’m gonna pop my shoulders out and stuff. So I usually rely on my cane, which is pretty good most of the time,” she said. “But actually getting in and out of doors is a pretty big thing for me.”

She wears a backpack and often needs one hand to carry another item or bag. With the cane in her other hand, that’s no hands left to hold doors open.

“Opening the door and having it slam on you before you can get inside of it is an experience I have every day with the building I live in,” she said. The shuttle worries Graham, but walking isn’t great either.

Jessica Graham is a REAL student whose disabilities make life at Tufts exceedingly difficult. Photo by Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Behling encouraged students who needed transportation accommodations to get in touch with SAS.

“There are a number of individualized accommodations that SAS can put into place for students depending on their needs,” she wrote.

Graham, Holden, and Slate all said they had heard about a TapRide-type service for disabled and injured students that had been shut down a few years ago, possibly because too many people were asking to use it.

When asked in about the existence of this service, TUPD’s Deputy Director of Public Safety Operations Leon Romprey said there had never been a dedicated ride service for injuries and disabilities.

On occasion and subject to availability, TUPD has provided courtesy transports to students with disabilities when asked when the safe ride service has not been available. Because of the nature of TUPD’s duties and responsibilities, such as respond

ing to emergencies and other calls for service that require a timely response, TUPD is not a reliable means of transportation for students with disabilities,” he wrote in an email to the Daily. We currently have a working group that is exploring an alternative option.”

TUPD did not respond to follow-up questions from the Daily regarding this working group.

For students who can afford it, driving can ease the difficulty of getting around campus. Beecy borrowed her dad’s car for the summer and the fall semester while recovering from her ACL surgery. She said she would have struggled to get by without it.

“I would have to take less hours at work because I now have increased transit time. I wouldn’t have been able to do my senior thesis [in the fall] because the lab I do it in is on this side of campus, and a lot of the stuff I was doing was pretty early in the morning…a lot of what I was doing was building something, so I couldn’t feasibly do a lot of that. I think that if I hadn’t had my car I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the things I had to do. I definitely would have taken a lighter class load, because that’s more time in between classes,” she said.

For students with physical disabilities, getting around campus means seeking alternate routes, which are often long and circuitous. Video by Annette Key
[Video ID: split-screen GoPro footage. The right side of the screen is a POV shot along the accessible route from Eaton Hall to the SEC, the left side is a POV shot of the inaccessible route. As the video shows, the accessible route takes about twice as long to cover, and requires going down the Dowling elevator to avoid the memorial steps.];

Graham said she’s discouraged by how long it takes and how hard it is to get to class, dining halls and the library.

“I fear for future Tufts students coming here, especially with my disability being degenerative, ‘cause I was ok when I got here and it’s progressed,” Graham said. “It’s like, am I going to have to give up because I can’t walk up the stairs? It’s scary and I’m really hoping things will change, at least for future students.”

The hill seems to be the biggest obstacle. Tufts is so defined by it that its residents refer to it as a proper noun: ‘The Hill.’ Does this mean the Medford/Somerville campus is fundamentally inaccessible?

“I wonder if it’s just that so many people with disabilities are discouraged from coming to Tufts at all, because of the hill,” Holden said. “It’s interesting because we don’t even have an accurate representation because we don’t know how many people don’t even apply because it’s so bad.”

For students with physical disabilities, the hill is an ever-present obstacle.
[Video ID: Successive panning shots showcasing the prevalence and steepness of Tufts' Hill. In order: President's Lawn, Rainbow Steps, Memorial Steps]

Andrew Feder, the president of the Coalition for Autism Support, who said he is autistic but not physically disabled, said Walnut Hill prevents Tufts from ever being physically accessible.

“Apart from a major engineering solution, this isn’t solvable. Tufts will never have lots of students in wheelchairs,” he said. “I think this is a hopeless cause.”

One of Tufts’ rare chair lifts can be seen in Barnum Hall. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Accommodations and understanding

Graham says SAS suggested great ideas for accommodations, including allowing her to record lectures instead of taking written or typed notes.

“But there’s only so much they can do when the campus itself is the way it is–what can they do, make a ski lift up and down the hill?” Graham said.

The Capital Plan doesn’t include a ski lift, but Tufts administration and students are still trying to make campus more accessible.

Behling wrote that SAS tries to make registering with their office as easy as possible.

“Many schools reject student documentation if it is older than a particular date range. Tufts is rare in that it does not impose such restrictions. Rather, we treat each student and their situation individually and will work to determine what is needed based on that individual student’s situation. Tufts does help students navigate the diagnosis process if they have not been diagnosed before. We also will put temporary accommodations into place while that student gets the support they need. Our goal is not to make a student wait for their accommodations, but rather to help facilitate the diagnostic process (including being sensitive to the cost of diagnoses) and helping them as they go through the process. A student who is interested in receiving services, even if they do not have a formal diagnosis, should contact SAS,” she said.

Graham said she didn’t know what accommodations were available to her when she first approached SAS, an experience Slate, Holden and Beecy also mentioned.

“They were generally good at suggesting things to me, but I feel like there are other things out there that could probably be helpful that I don’t know about. They did give me dictation software because I can’t really type or write well. And it’s like, well there may be a lot of other students who could benefit from this and just didn’t happen to bring it up. So maybe if there was some sort of list or suggestions of accommodations available…” Graham said.

Beecy wasn’t sure at first whether SAS offered any physical accommodations at all.

“Originally before calling, I went to the SAS website, but it just seemed very like ‘do you need extra time on tests? Do you have a mental health problem that affects your classwork?’ So I didn’t really think it was where I was supposed to be. But I figured it out.”

In an email to the Daily, Behling explained why SAS doesn’t list accomodations on its website.

“Drawing upon best practices in the field, SAS provides individualized assessments for each and every case referred rather than presume that accommodations fall within a predetermined list of options,” Behling wrote. “We value the student as an expert with their disability and will ask what they think they need. At the same time, we’ll make recommendations on what we think they need as well.”

Graham said she wished Tufts would train professors to take disabilities and accommodations seriously.

“I had a professor rip an exam out of my hand when time was up even though I was supposed to be getting half extra time. And it’s hard, because you don’t want to make your professor mad, you don’t want to get on his bad side and I’ve heard a lot of professors don’t believe the student because ‘you don’t really look that sick.’ But there’s so many different disabilities and a lot of them aren’t that visible,” Graham said.

“I wish there was some way to get the word out to them, that we’re not just lazy or looking for a free ride, we really have a medical condition and we’re suffering,” she continued. “It breaks my heart every time I hear these stories and I hear them all the time. Every disabled person I meet, they have a story about this happening to them.”

Behling wrote that students should contact SAS immediately if a professor refuses to honor their accommodations.

“We will work to understand the situation and advocate on behalf of the student if their accommodation is not being fulfilled. When we have repeat concerns with a faculty member, we refer the faculty member to OEO [Office of Equal Opportunity], which will initiate a review,” she wrote.

Behling said SAS educates faculty about accommodations through a variety of sources, including newsletters, a resource website, and departmental and individual meetings, and that OEO also teaches faculty about disability every year.

Feder also said that education and a greater understanding of disability are crucial to affect change.

“People just need to be out about these things, they need to tell their friends, tell their teachers, tell their family, hey, I exist, I deserve respect, I deserve to be understood,” he said. “We can eventually create a world, or at least a school, where people don’t face a lot of misunderstanding and judgment and other gross awkwardness that they do today.”

Beecy said she has a better understanding of her disabled peers’ experience after her injury.

“I feel like I have kind of a unique perspective because I didn’t have to deal with it at all before, and then all of a sudden it happened, and now it’s done again,” she said. “Talking to my friends who have been dealing with it from day one, they’re like ‘oh yeah, that’s just a thing that happens’ and I’m like ‘no, this shouldn’t be happening, this is an outrage, how dare they not do this!’ And they’re like “this is the life of a person who is disabled.’”

Stairs leading up to the entrance to Eaton Hall are pictured. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Slate isn’t sure that Tufts, or at least Tufts’ administration, has the capacity to change.

“I see Tufts as this giant private institution that doesn’t really care for the cogs in the system and I’m ready to get out and try to join a community and be in a community that really prioritizes the well-being of everyone,” he said.

But he hasn’t given up on being understood. This January he released a choose-your-own adventure game based on his life at Tufts, hoping to share his experience. When his sister played it, he said, she cried. She had no idea how much thought he had to put into a simple decision like where to get lunch.

Injured and physically disabled students at Tufts make dozens of decisions every day: Sit in an uncomfortable chair, or hurt your shoulder bringing a cushion? Skip class, or climb the stairs to an inaccessible building? Pay for a ride to Carmichael Dining Hall, or get stared at as you walk there? Tufts is improving its buildings and teaching professors to respect student accommodations, but there’s much work left to be done. Can Tufts really claim to put a light on the hill if some of its students have no way to get up it?

Graham said that if she knew the extent of her disability upon entering Tufts, she would think twice before enrolling.

“I wish I would’ve taken into consideration how inaccessible [Tufts] is…but when you’re looking at Tufts, at least from an outside perspective, you hear see then always talking about diversity and inclusion. And i’ve seen not just with disability but on many fronts that this is just a shimmery mirage in the desert that we have and we’re like, ‘ooh’ but when you get right down to it, it’s really not there,” she said.

Slate was even more critical, and had bleak advice for any prospective Tufts students with physical disabilities.

“The current accessibility level at Tufts is absolutely dreadful,” he said. “If you have a disability and you are looking at this school, do not come. It’s bad and it’s not going to get better.”

A student sits in a staircase in the Science and Engineering Center. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)


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