Side Track: Cadet teaching exercise reveals limitations of high school access

By Halie Frahm

“You get to sit all day, every day? Lucky.”

“It must be nice not having to take the stairs.”

“I wish I could use the elevator.”

These were just a few of the remarks from unknowing fellow students said to Tammy Frahm’s cadet teachers while doing their “wheelchair-user for a day,” class experience. The assignment is meant for the class to somewhat experience what it is like to be a mobility

assistance device user both physically and socially within the CFHS environment.

And the project made an impression. Senior Sophie Poe said she was completely surprised. “I was shocked by how long and difficult it was to get to the elevator each time I had to

change floors because there is only one main elevator.”

Junior Bianca Anderson also discovered quite a few new perspectives from the experience. “I was very shocked to learn about how many bathroom stalls in the school I couldn’t get into. Also, I couldn’t get over how hard it was to get to each of my classes. Some of the doors wouldn’t open all the way, and all I could think of was the kids actually in wheelchairs would need extra help getting into those doors.”

But senior Maia Lindaman had another eye-opening approach. “I was surprised at how unequipped Cedar Falls High School was for people in wheelchairs, just because I’d never been put in the position to even think about it,” she said. “Our high school has the bare minimum for students in wheelchairs. I was sad because if I was in a wheelchair, and I wanted to be completely independent, it would be almost impossible to get from class to class on time without leaving early, which would call attention to myself that I may not want.”

The three students also learned through the activity how people in wheelchairs are treated socially due to society’s preconceptions about mobility aid users. “I was sad because of the reactions I got. People who didn’t know who I was didn’t look me in the eye even when I would smile at them,” Lindaman said.

After the activity, the students’ thoughts about the state of  the building’s accessibility became apparent. “Before this experience I always thought having a new building was pointless, but my thought on that has changed. This assignment really opened my eyes to how much more accessibilities we need in our school, and getting a new building could give us the opportunities to have all those accessibilities like more elevators and bigger bathrooms, ways to sit with friends at basketball games,” Anderson said.

“I definitely believe that our building’s current accessibility should not be considered equal access. While in the wheelchair, I did not feel as ‘equal’ as the other students,” Poe said. “Students in wheelchairs have the bare minimum. It is not nearly fair because these students don’t ask for this. So, no, it is not ‘equal access,’” Lindaman added.

So now the students in Frahm’s cadet teaching class know the truth to the assumption that

“It must be nice being in a wheelchair.”

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