More than a Cast

crutchesLife changed in a split second.  A freak accident led to 4 broken bones in the right foot, a fiberglass cast, crutches, no weight permitted on the right foot, a “knee walker”, and a last-minute change in back to college plans.  Formal “accommodations” were made at the university, including more time allotted for moving from class to class, and accessible housing closer to the academic side of campus.  With T’s crossed and I’s dotted, she began the fall semester.

Despite the accommodations, which neatly made up for any inconvenience of the broken foot, so much more was altered that day.  Going anywhere took much longer and required more physical energy.  Bumpy sidewalks, steps in theater style classrooms, traditional doors to classrooms, and automatic doors/elevators in buildings, but not necessarily near the destination within the building, made for increasing frustration, physical fatigue, and close calls when navigating the campus.  Driving was not permitted, and the ability to leave campus, shop, or attend off campus meetings was curtailed.

Most activities that people take for granted were now challenges; things as simple as carrying a drink or tray in the cafeteria, opening a door, sitting with friends at a hockey game, or carrying glassware in chemistry lab.  Friends and fellow students did not think to offer to help – most felt uncomfortable and did not want to draw attention to her being “different”. Due to the change in dorm room location, hanging out with friends was often inconvenient.  Friends expected her to come to them, not realizing that a half-mile uphill trek could be exhausting, as well as time-consuming. Fear of being a target for crime increased. A Twitter feed about the “student on the scooter” was rampant. Due to her dependency on people for help, some began to treat the student like a child, as if the injury had an impact on intelligence. Embarrassment, social isolation, lack of independence/ability to attend events or activities of choice, an inability to de-stress with physical activities, and general fatigue from hopping on one leg, led to a decline in confidence and impacted her self-esteem.

When you see a student navigating campus with crutches, a scooter, wheelchair, or other mobility aide, be attentive and give it some thought.  The impact on lifestyle is so much more than simply the crutch.  Even “short term” disabilities, like a broken leg, can have widespread impact.  Being sensitive and responsive to these invisible “disabilities” are an “accommodation” that should exist implicitly.