Diversity Dialogue: Wheeling through the West Michigan winter

Editor’s note: This column is a part of the Lanthorn’s Diversity Dialogue series, which gives students who identify as part of a minority population the platform to tell their stories of what life is like as a Laker.

An experience that people might think they understand but not truly realize how stressful it is to live through a West Michigan winter at Grand Valley State University while using a wheelchair. During the winter months, I wake up every day and peek out my window hoping there isn’t enough snow on the ground to make my day a living hell.

Trying to push yourself in about a foot of packed snow sucks and you practically have frostbite on your fingers by the time you get to where you are going. If there is more than three inches of snow on the ground, my daily routine has to completely change and revolve around other people helping me rather than relying on myself.

I am a very independent person who hates that I need to ask others for help because of something as unavoidable as the weather. Thankfully, I have made some amazing friends at GVSU that are always willing to give me a helping hand. There are countless occasions where I’ve called a friend to help me when I can’t get to my apartment because snow is blocking my path. There was one time when a couple of friends had to lift me in my wheelchair over the giant pile of snow the plows built up in front of my dorm freshman year.

One thing that has helped me immensely with the dread of the winter months is the van services that GVSU’s Disability Support Resources (DSR) offers to physically disabled students. I’m a regular and have used it for the entirety of my three and a half years I’ve been a student here, but this service is also available for students who break a leg and need help getting to classes for a month. Since I use the van every year, I just have to send them my class schedule and they pick me up wherever I am and take me to all of my classes. This way, I do not have to worry about dealing with the sometimes harsh winter conditions at GVSU.

During my freshman and sophomore year, only one of the vans had the capability to help students who use wheelchairs get to their classes. This never made sense to me, since the people who truly would need the assistance getting from The Connection to Mackinac Hall in 10 minutes are people who use wheelchairs. The van that did have the lift would break down quite frequently, so frequently that I eventually learned all of its tricks and would teach new drivers how to fix it.

Luckily, last year DSR received two new vans that both have wheelchair ramps in them, so I don’t have to worry about the van not being available to me and having to push myself to class. Yes, that has happened before and I broke out into a sweat pushing myself from my dorm to AuSable Hall.

I will always be thankful that GVSU offers the van services, I honestly would have transferred after my freshman year because of how difficult it is to get around with the Lake Michigan winters. I don’t know where I would be if I had transferred, since after my first year I started GVSU’s Book Club with a friend and I would be lost in life without my Writing Center family.

Side note: even though I don’t like having to ask others for help, I do appreciate it, and if you ever see me struggling in the snow, I wouldn’t say no to a push.