Hannah Kenny expected that traveling in a wheelchair around campus would be challenging.
“I knew going up MainStreet would be difficult, but going down was even harder,” she said.
Kenny was one of many University of Cincinnati students to participate Friday in #UCWheels, an event sponsored by student group Alliance for Abilities in partnership with fraternity Pi Kappa Phi.
Students volunteered to use manual wheelchairs to navigate their ways through campus, exploring the university’s accessibility firsthand.
Although the event was free, participants were encouraged to make donations, with proceeds benefitting Sara Spins, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and necessary funds for students with disabilities to provide them with a more accessible way to pursue traditional higher education. Since Sara Spins began in 2012, it has raised over $20,000 for students with disabilities.
Anyone who made donations were eligible to pick up a free #UCWheels T-shirt.
About 500 T-shirts were picked up by students, and a total of 27 wheelchairs were used throughout the day.
After checking out a wheelchair, students went on with their regular day-to-day schedules around campus while facing the challenges of accessibility. Participants documented their experiences throughout the day using the Twitter hashtag #UCWheels.
According to event participant Sean Glenson, UC’s hilly campus posed a big challenge, and it was made even more difficult when some of those hills were made of cobblestone.
#UCWheels also partnered with Sara Spins, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and necessary funds for students with disabilities to provide them with a more accessible way to pursue traditional higher education.
Since Sara Spins began in 2012, it has raised over $20,000 for students with disabilities.
Sara Whitestone, a third-year communications and biology student, created the organization after her own disabilities affected her accessibility on campus as a freshman. Whitestone has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), a neurological condition that causes chronic fatigue.
As one of only five UC students who needed a wheelchair for accessibility, Whitestone was driven to encourage other students with disabilities to come to the university. She said #UCWheels is a step toward her mission.
“People don’t think about it until they have to, and seeing wheelchairs on campus gets them thinking,” Whitestone said. “We want to see people who are able-bodied step out of their comfort zone.”
After spending four years in a wheelchair, Whitestone is now back on her feet. She found relief from ME after attending a Dallas treatment center in May.
With newfound health, Whitestone is ready to continue making a difference on campus.
Participants met in front of Tangeman University Center at noon for a group photo, cheering and holding letter cutouts that spelled “thank you” in appreciation of all the students, administration and donors who contributed to making #UCWheels possible.
An open forum Monday from 4-6 p.m. in TUC 427 will address students’ experiences during the event, as the Alliance for Abilities group discusses its initiatives for UC’s campus.
“We’re not doing this to feel sorry for people,” said Zach Wiles, Pi Kappa Phi member. “We’re doing it to see the challenges they face and celebrate the abilities they do have.”