Navigating College Using Disability Services

By John Stran 

Anthony Hartwig, a telecommunications major at Youngstown State University, is like many students — a commuter. He travels to campus from South Range, often by a $2 WRTA ride.

Hartwig’s days on campus are spent going from class to class, assisted by a student escort. The escorts push or drive Hartwig around in his wheelchair.

Hartwig has cerebral palsy. The disease has made him partially reliant on a wheelchair and has damaged his eyesight and focus of vision.

Although the disease makes him less physically capable, Hartwig works on his physical fitness by walking as much as possible. Being constantly confined to the wheelchair is not his lifestyle choice.

“I only try to use my wheelchair on campus or for long distances,” Hartwig said. “I hate being in it.”

Hartwig said he has gained the attribute of adaptability because of cerebral palsy. He also understands that everyone cannot adapt to the disability as easily and that sometimes it can be overwhelming.

So for those who struggle through their disability or for those who are just going through a rough time, Hartwig would like to play the role of spokesman.

“I want people to gain hope when they see how I handle my situation and to understand that things can be overcome,” Hartwig said.

Dave Zaitzew works at the Student Security Services in Kilcawley, a service under the Youngstown State Police Department. He said he has noticed that a lot of the disabled students he drives around campus are like Hartwig in the sense that they are seemingly okay with their disabilities.

Hartwig’s encounters with other handicapped people on campus mirrors that notion.

“I’ve met people who have trouble managing, but I would say the majority of people have come to terms with whatever they may be facing.” Hartwig said.

Zaitzew said a benefit disabled students have on campus is that it lacks outdoor steps, making it easier for students to travel across campus.

Hartwig considers Zaitzew and the other students who work at the Student Security Service to be a valuable asset to himself and the others who rely on their services. He said he’s spent time at other campuses that lack the convenience that YSU’s Student Security Service provides.

Although YSU has been working to improve accessibility on and around campus, there are still areas that need improvement.

One of those areas, according to Zaitzew, is the location of the disability services building which is located on West Wood Street near the Williamson College of Business Administration. He said that the distance of the building is a bit of a haul for anyone, especially someone in a wheelchair.

“I feel it would be a lot more convenient for students like Anthony if some room was cleared out in CSP for Disability Services,” Said Zaitzew. “Or anywhere in Kilcawley for that matter.”

Hartwig said another issue is the automatic doors on campus. He mentioned that some buildings have automatic doors that work only half of the time while there are older buildings that have no automatic doors at all. He is also concerned about the bathroom stalls.

“There are stalls like the one near Dunkin Donuts that have grab bars in them, but a wheelchair can’t fit in there,” Hartwig said. “I can stand up and get to the grab bar but not everyone can do that.”

Since Hartwig began at YSU, he has noticed two rooms have made adjustments to his disability. One being the TV studio in Bliss Hall and the other being the Ward Beecher planetarium.

The TV studio has been redesigned to create a more open space for wheelchair accessibility and the planetarium bought a ramp to accommodate Hartwig while he was taking astronomy.

The setbacks of handicap accessibility on campus doesn’t really phase Hartwig too much. He realized that there’s always going to be some kind of barrier wherever he is. He said he is more focused on the physical setbacks created by his cerebral palsy.

He wants it to be known that although cerebral palsy affects his mobility, it does not affect his ability to be a knowledgeable person.

“Just because I’m in a wheelchair, I think that some people may just assume that I’m mentally impaired as well,” Hartwig said. “I just want people to see me as an intellectual equal.”

Hartwig’s intellectual ability has been proven capable by his 3.5 GPA and a graduation date set for next fall. His plans for post college life are a bit uncertain, though he has found a niche with color commentating, which he does for YSU’s volleyball team.

Hartwig is not bothered by the uncertainty of his future because he feels that being in a wheelchair can, at times, have its advantages.

“Being in a wheelchair, people often want to come up and help me,” Hartwig said. “I meet a lot of people that others may not get to meet, which is really useful when networking.”

The highs and lows of the disease have made Hartwig’s life enjoyable as well as irritating. Although having cerebral palsy impairs Hartwig’s ability to walk, the disease has never once slowed him down.