Students make F*** Stairs’ goals visible on pavements across campus. Photo by Lauren Jindrich.
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“I have the pleasure and the ability to be able to walk into almost any door on this campus,” Madelin Lapp, a senior entrepreneurship and innovation major, said. “Not everyone has that ability.”
Lapp is one of almost 300 people who have taken the two-week long pledge to only use accessible pathways around campus in solidarity with wheelchair users and other people with mobility impairments.
The pledge is part of F*** Stairs — a campaign started at the University of Washington in 2018 to demonstrate how inaccessible and unwelcoming physical spaces can be more than 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, was signed into law.
Bulldogs for Universal Design, BUD, introduced the campaign to Butler’s campus on March 20, and has hosted chalking and tabling events to get the word out.
The pledge requires participants to not use stairs, walk over curbs or use a pathway that would be impossible or impractical to access as a wheelchair user or an individual with a mobility impairment. The one exception is that participants can use stairs inside of buildings to keep elevators free for those who need them. BUD urges participants to document and reflect on instances where they break the rules, and to share their experiences on social media.
Becca Mattson, a junior music education major and president of BUD, said the initial chalking on March 19 sparked a negative response from some. People took to Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging app, to express their confusion with what the campaign set out to do. Mattson said this stemmed from a general misunderstanding of what F*** Stairs is trying to accomplish.
“The reason why [the campaign] is called F*** Stairs isn’t because we’re trying to abolish stairs,” Mattson said. “It’s because essentially, the way that you show solidarity with [BUD] and the campaign is by saying ‘F stairs’ and only taking accessible routes … Students are taking the pledge, they’re saying ‘F stairs’ in solidarity with us, and then eventually it’s getting the attention and continued collaboration from folks that we need to be talking to in order to make sure that our goals are things that [Butler] can achieve.”
Despite initial controversy, Mattson said she has been excited to see how many students have engaged with the campaign. Students have approached the tabling events with questions, and have taken to social media to highlight places where Butler’s architecture is not as accessible as it should be.
“You would find that most of the people who are gonna say things on YikYak don’t actually say things in person,” Mattson said. “It’s a provocative campaign — it’s gonna have provocative responses. The name ‘F*** Stairs’ catches your eye, and in that sense, it achieved its goal. Whatever else you can say about it, it has certainly captured the university’s eye.”
As a wheelchair user, Mattson is all too familiar with the sometimes inconvenient and longer routes that are the only options for people with disabilities. The idea of the pledge is to show able-bodied students some of the experiences disabled students navigate every day.
“It’s kind of eye opening to see [that] it’s taken me a little bit longer to get to class now because I have to find an [accessible] door,” Lapp said. “I’ve broken the pledge a couple times because I’m running late, or like today, it was raining. I was like, I’m not gonna find a ramp. But not everyone can do that.”
BUD set a list of goals for both the university and Student Government Association, SGA, at the beginning of the campaign.
From SGA, BUD is asking for a commitment to advocacy, incorporating Braille materials around campus and including alternate text readers and image descriptions on social media. Along with those things, BUD is campaigning that the university create an accessibility compliance office, continue curb cuts and increase ability-based training.
Erin Cooper is a sophomore actuarial science major and an executive board member of BUD. She said she has heard students asking why the provocative nature of the campaign was necessary.
“Students [have been] like, ‘Why don’t they just write a letter to student affairs or SGA?’ and we’re like, ‘We’ve done that type of thing,’” Cooper said. “I wish it didn’t take such a vocal campaign, but I’m glad that [students] are working with us now.”
The first week of the campaign prompted a statement on social media from Frank Ross, vice president of student affairs, and an executive order from SGA President Cade Chezem, both on Friday, March 24.
In his statement, Ross said the university’s administration is aware of and applauds the campaign. The statement went on to condemn the hate speech spread on YikYak that targeted students with disabilities.
Chezem’s executive order said that SGA is committed to promoting accessibility, the F*** Stairs campaign and BUD as a whole. Under section three of the order, Chezen wrote that the requests BUD made on Instagram are “easily fulfilled.”
Chezem ordered that SGA’s public relations board begin using “image descriptions, alt text, captioning, and other accessibility aids” on all SGA materials, with an emphasis on their Instagram and website. It was also ordered that the public relations board “explore screen reader accessible or Braille material for documents created and released by the organization.”
Cooper said these actions break a pattern of inaction.
“We have had a long history of silence [from SGA] with [BUD’s] goals,” Cooper said. “We drafted statements to them in the fall that were technically adopted, [but we] didn’t see change.”
Lapp thinks it is important the Butler community realizes that changes made to make campus more accessible benefit everyone. At the very least, they do not hinder the current architecture.
“An injury, a car crash, anything, you can easily become a part of the disabled community,” Lapp said. “ … I think part of this campaign is just helping people realize that disabled people are here, they’re important, and [they] shouldn’t be an afterthought. It shouldn’t be something to think about later, or only when the problem comes up.”
Mattson, Lapp and Cooper said making campus more accessible could include more ramps, door-opening buttons and elevators. Even though those accessible options are present on campus already, increasing the quantity and implementing them right alongside stairs is what BUD is working to accomplish.
“There’s a lot of things Butler is doing well with our disabled students,” Mattson said. “There’s a lot of things Butler is improving on with our disabled students. There’s a lot of things that BU can do better for our disabled students … One of the things BUD has done a good job of [this] school year is at least making accessibility part of the conversation.”
The campaign ends on March 31 with BUD’s final tabling event outside of Starbucks from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Even though the campaign will end then, BUD is dedicated to continuing their advocacy work to make Butler equally accessible for all.
More information can be found on BUD’s Instagram @budatbutler.