Accessibility friendly culture creates positive experience in sorority

This is in response to an editorial run in the Sept. 10, 2012 edition of The Daily Illini, which said that sororities need to become more disability friendly. The editorial board said that sororities’ inaccessible houses deter young women from joining and getting the “full” sorority life style. While it is truly amazing that Daily Illini see the barriers created by inaccessible buildings, what they fail to realize is that the sorority lifestyle doesn’t end at the doors to the house. I should know; I’m a student with a severe physical disability, and I’m a sorority woman.

Before starting recruitment, I was prepared to fight for accessibility. Fighting was what I was used to. Even to get an accessible hotel room is a process: You have to reserve your room online, call the hotel right away to tell them you need an accessible room, retell the manager you need an accessible room after the concierge can’t reserve one for you and still hope that you get the accessible room (most of the time you won’t).

In order to get every sorority house to put up ramps and video tape their houses for a virtual tour I had to text a friend who was a Gamma Chi. That was it. It was easier for me to get my more than 300-pound wheelchair into 18 houses that are around 100 years old, than it is to reserve an accessible room at a two-year-old Holiday Inn.

In truth, the accessibility of a building is only a small part of what makes this campus so disability friendly. It’s the attitude of its people that makes the true difference. When I went through recruitment, girls bent over backwards just to give me the chance to join their house. Pi Beta Phi even built a huge wooden ramp to get me in. I had a Gamma Chi with me for the two weekends of recruitment, willing to make sure I made it to the events on time and that I got in the building.

Every house I went to was filled with girls who were willing to give me a shot, even if their houses were old. And honestly, the girls recruiting me had a higher standard for accessibility than what I did. I was hoping to just sneak in the back of the houses, after the girls welcomed us. The girls demanded better for themselves, changing anything in their very detailed routines that might be a problem. They were open to the challenge.

Everything starts with the willingness to be open.

I joined Sigma Kappa, which was one of the least accessible buildings on campus. What it had, though, were open-minded and loving girls. Every time I needed, or even just wanted, to get in to the house all I had to do was call. They would trudge out in the rain and put out two heavy, 8-foot long ramps for me to get in the house — all while wearing heels. And they didn’t do it because they had to, they did it because they wanted me to be involved. They wanted me with all of their sisters, even if that meant getting a little damp.

Panhellenic Council and the Interfraternity Council hosted an event called Handicap This!, which featured a man with cerebral palsy sharing how his life is living with a severe disability. No other organization outside of the Greek system (and those specifically affiliated with disabilities) has such events, especially to such a scale.

While Greek houses are slowly becoming more accessible, the Greek community has made leaps and bounds over their historical houses. It is their willingness to do everything in their power to be accommodating to its members that should be looked at, not the quality of their buildings.

After all, buildings will only change when the people living in them put in the effort to change them. Look at the new ramp on the side of the Sigma Kappa house, or the elevator in Pi Kappa Phi to know that the change is coming.

Kelsey Rozema

junior in LAS