Van Service makes disabled living easier

By Gus Bode

Handicapped transportation on campus benefits those with disabilities

When the weather is clear, Courtney Stocking has no problem taking her wheelchair to class, and when it’s pouring rain with lightning everywhere, she still manages.

When the weather proves to be not exactly handicapped accessible, Stocking finds the Handicapped Van Service to be an easy and safe way to make it to class safely, and she doesn’t have to worry about her chair shorting out in the middle of campus.

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Taking my metal chair out in the middle of a storm can be really dangerous, she said. Even a little rain can make it break down, and I’d be just sitting there.

When she first came to Carbondale in the fall of 2000, Stocking, a junior in therapeutic recreation counseling from Arlington Heights, thought skipping class was her only option when the weather turned bad. That was before she discovered that the SIUC’s Handicapped Van Service is free of charge to students who are non-ambulatory, or in need of a wheelchair.

It helps people get to class when they normally wouldn’t go, Stocking said. The van is convenient and offers an added incentive by picking me up in front of my dorm.

Michael Whitney, assistant program director of Disabled Support Services, said the van service, which is regularly used by about 20 students, is just one of the services offered to students with disabilities at SIUC.

It’s something extra that the University does for them because, for the most part, they are required to be at class like everyone else, and the University is responsible for making sure they’re able to get there, he said.

Kathleen Plesko, director of Disability Support Services, said the van service helps students in the Carbondale city limits by bringing them to campus from their houses and back when their classes are over. The vans do not go from building to building, but students may take rides to on-campus locations such as the Wellness Center or Recreation Center.

A student arranges van transportation according to their class schedule at the beginning of the semester, and it doesn’t really change, Plesko said. It’s prearranged and prescheduled, unlike a taxi service.

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Stocking said the van service is usually easily accessible, even when she does not schedule weeks or months in advance. She has to schedule trips to the Recreation Center twice a week because her Thompson Point dorm room is on the opposite side of campus.

I just call up and say I need a ride, and it’s pretty much available if they have an opening, she said.

The vans are easier and more convenient than public transportation such as Saluki Express, the official bus service of SIUC. People with wheelchairs may use the bus, but it won’t take them straight to campus. They may be detoured to the mall before making it to campus an hour later.

If they are not ambulatory, they may have difficulty even getting to the bus stop, Whitney said. This makes things a little easier for them.

Another service that helps students who are disabled but don’t use wheelchairs is the on-campus Transit Service. The cars can be seen driving around campus on a daily basis and are beneficial to visually impaired and semi-ambulatory students. The students may request redeemable tickets for the service at the Health Center, and often use the service until they are fully mobile again.

Plesko said the service is often used by students with broken legs or arms who can’t drive or walk to class. The transit service is also used to bring important documents or papers from building to building on campus.

The vans used through the Handicapped Van Service can hold two students with wheelchairs at a time, and there is no regular seating except for in the front seats. The service does not operate on weekends, holidays or during semester breaks.

Plesko said the vans may not be available all the time, but the students are strong-willed enough that they can still make due with the limited transportation.

Our students wouldn’t choose SIU if they weren’t into being independent, she said. There are places for those not into an independent lifestyle, but SIU is a place that encourages it.

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