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‘It’s the little things:’ Students with disabilities discuss challenges

Tilly Griffiths ’22, recalls struggling to find which dorms she could physically live in, as a wheelchair user with spinal muscular atrophy. Georgiana Burnside ’21 can no longer study abroad in Australia due to lack of accommodations for her spinal cord injury and is scrambling to find accessible housing for fall quarter. Saptarshi Mujamar ’19 wishes he didn’t have to be physically carried out of his wheelchair while visiting friends in Row houses.  

From housing accommodations to social life to classroom accessibility, aspects of Stanford campus remain out of reach for some students with physical disabilities. 

“We are part of an invisible community,” Mujamar said. “You have to ask for shit, because no one in life is going to hand anything to you.”

Stanford’s campus is relatively accessible for students with physical disabilities — ranked top six among U.S. universities by 101 mobility. Still, much of Stanford’s architecture predates mandates from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which require wheelchair accessibility in post-1994 buildings. 

Barriers extend beyond staircases. Social communities on campus tend to reside in inaccessible buildings, and students say they notice an uncomfortable lack of awareness within the student body. From Burnside’s application to study abroad to Tilly’s bucket list item of fountain hopping, the full Stanford experience takes coordination between the Diversity and Access Office, the Office of Accessible Education and various related departments. 

“You understand the realities of life, and you don’t want to seem like a burden” Burnside said. “You don’t want to demand X, Y and Z, because it kind of makes you feel uncomfortable.” 

Burnside, Mujamar and Griffiths all emphasized how grateful they were for the opportunities they’ve received on Stanford campus.  

“It’s the little things,” they say. It’s small investments like wheelchair railing support in dorms, help paying for personal assistants and transparency regarding housing accommodations, among others.  

Contact Kit Ramgopal at kramgopa ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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