Sarah Ray


Posted: November 12, 2002

Biology students raise awareness of accessibility with "Wheelchair for a Day" event


VT - Entering buildings, walking up hills, climbing steps, opening

doors … in a wheelchair. Students in a Middlebury College biology

class are asking faculty, staff and fellow students to do more than just

imagine themselves in this situation. The class organized a “Wheelchair

for a Day” program that will allow members of the College community

to sign up for a wheelchair and experience the Middlebury campus from

the perspective of a wheelchair user. Declaring Nov. 18-22 “Accessibility

Awareness Week,” the students planned “Wheelchair for a Day”

to take place during the final three days of the week. The students also

have scheduled several other activities, including a panel of speakers

and a concluding discussion, that they hope will add to an increased awareness

of accessibility issues on campus.

According to Middlebury College Professor of Biology David Parfitt, who

teaches the course, the students were inspired to organize “Wheelchair

for a Day” by what they have learned in the class, “Neural Disorders:

Individuals, Families and Society. ” One element of the course is

a service-learning project, which calls for the students to work with

members of the community who are stricken with conditions such as Parkinson’s

disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and clinical depression.

Many of these individuals are wheelchair users. The course work requires

students to document the impact of the diseases upon the individuals,

their families and society.


Richards, a Middlebury College junior and a member of the class said,

“Our work with community members led us to apply their struggles

to our own College community. We talked with the College’s Americans with

Disabilities Act (ADA) office, as well as with disabled students about

their difficulties here at Middlebury. These discussions led to our plans

for “Accessibility Awareness Week.”

Biology students raise awareness of accessibility with "Wheelchair for a Day" event


truly diverse community includes those with disabilities. The College

handbook supports the inclusion of the disabled regarding employment and

admissions but accessibility to College buildings needs improvement,”

added Richards.

Sarah Le Feber, a Middlebury College senior, met with Parfitt’s class

to discuss her experiences navigating the Middlebury campus as a wheelchair



said, “We were concerned with how a full-time wheelchair user might

react to our ‘Wheelchair for a Day’ program, but Sarah loved the idea.”


great that people want to learn about accessibility. The ‘Wheelchair for

a Day’ program is going to be a real eye-opener for people on campus.

It’s important to raise awareness about what we have to go through on

a daily basis. I’m looking forward to their reactions,” said Le Feber.


said, “The students conceived of this idea and organized the events.

It’s exciting when the enthusiasm about what they’re learning inspires

them to go beyond the classroom. It’s also a testament to the value of

service-learning as a component of an academic course.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, the first day of the “Wheelchair for a Day”

campaign, the 16 biology students, Parfitt, and several other faculty

members will occupy approximately 20 wheelchairs the students have obtained

for the event. For the remaining two days of the campaign, the wheelchairs

will be available to staff, and other faculty and students through the

five commons or residential life offices on campus. Those who are interested

may sign up for specific time slots, and pick up and drop off the wheelchairs

at these offices.

Biology students raise awareness of accessibility with "Wheelchair for a Day" event


participants in “Wheelchair for a Day” will receive a free T-shirt,

which was designed by the students, with the image of a person in a wheelchair

at the base of the hill leading up to Middlebury College’s Mead Chapel.

Beneath the image will be the students’ slogan for the wheelchair campaign:

“Midd Accessibility: It’s an Uphill Battle.” At one of the dining

halls on campus, event organizers also plan to distribute stickers featuring

the international accessibility wheelchair symbol and the words “Accessibility

Awareness Week ‘02: It’s an Uphill Battle.”


part of “Accessibility Awareness Week,” members of the College

community may also attend a Nov. 18 panel discussion led by Parfitt that

includes Le Feber and several of the community members who worked with

Parfitt’s class.


“Wheelchair for a Day” participants will be encouraged to attend

the final event of the week on the evening of Nov. 22-an educational forum

where participants will discuss their experiences as wheelchair users.


Awareness Week” is sponsored by several Middlebury College organizations:

the commons system, ADA office, biology department, and neuroscience program.


more information, contact event organizer Christopher Richards at 802-443-4555.