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“Are You Lost?”: Reflections on Belonging

alison

 

Since the day I arrived at Osgoode, it has been eminently clear to me that I am one of only a handful of visibly disabled students here. As someone who generally prefers to blend in, being one of the only students in a wheelchair has made me feel incredibly conspicuous whenever I am in the building, and I’m reminded daily that my experiences as a disabled law student are far from the norm. These differences are noticeable in everyday occurrences: when the snow isn’t cleared on the path, when I struggle to open the door to Moot Court without an automatic button, when I have to ask someone to move out of the only accessible seat in a classroom. From the beginning, it’s been clear to me that I’m an outsider, and I’ve wondered whether I really belong here.

 

Recently, I’ve become more aware of the sheer number of times I get asked if I’m lost when I’m in the Osgoode building. I’m asked multiple times a week—when I stop pushing my chair for a second to double check where my meeting is, when I’m waiting outside a professor’s office, or even when I’m just sitting in the hallway between classes. I know the intention is good and that people genuinely want to help, and for the first few months I wrote this off as students and staff being overly welcoming to new 1Ls, going out of the way to show us around. However, the frequency has remained consistent into this new semester, and when I compare my experiences to my able-bodied friends, it’s clear that I am disproportionately presumed to be lost, out of place, and in need of assistance.

 

While I appreciate the desire to help, the repeated presumption that I am lost reinforces again and again that I am out of place here because of my wheelchair, because of my disability. The intent may be good, but the underlying message is clear: you don’t seem like you belong.

 

Honestly, for most of the past semester I’ve bought into that message. I’ve felt out of place, knowing there is almost no one in the building who shares my experiences. When almost all social events held in inaccessible spaces, I’m reminded that my presence isn’t considered valuable. When I sit in classrooms with only stairs leading to the front of the room, I’m reminded that institutes for higher learning were never built with disabled people in mind as students, let alone as professors. And when I’m asked over and over and over again if I’m lost in this building, I begin to believe that I am.