Stella-Grace Ford '23
My first day of senior year was awful.
I was supposed to be at the Cathedral by 7:45am to rehearse for Madrigal Singers. I live ten minutes away from NCS, so I left my house at 7:30, naively expecting DC traffic to bend to my whim. T Pouring rain had slowed traffic all the way up Mass Ave, and the bottleneck of overzealous NCS parents and children pulling into Hearst’s parking garage entrance stalled traffic even longer. Thirty minutes later, I finally had Hearst Circle in sight. Finally, at 8:05, I began my rain-soaked trek to the Cathedral.
I had surgery to correct a dislocating ankle in early August, and I can’t bear weight on my foot until 6 weeks post-op. I expected to navigate NCS on crutches for the first few days, but I underestimated what becomes of said crutches when matched with Cathedral floors and fall storms. I tried to come in the Cathedral side door, since it’s the only entrance without stairs. I rang the buzzer that cues staff to unlock the door, but no one answered. I stood there with the buzzer ringing for about five minutes, frantically calling anyone at NCS who might be inside. Mads had already left, and no one else picked up, leaving me stranded outside. Mind you, the side entrance doesn’t have any coverings over it that can block angry buckets of pouring rain—by the time I spotted a cleaning lady and banged on the door until she let me in, I was soaked. Utterly. My backpack didn’t dry out until the next day.
Upon entering the Cathedral, I promptly face planted. My crutches were no match for the rainwater I’d dragged in, and the Cathedral’s slick floors provided no friction whatsoever. I had to pseudo-crawl to the Lincoln statue with my crutches in tow, all while trying to persuade the panicking cleaning lady that I was okay. I made it to the senior section, but I couldn’t participate in gathering in Bethlehem Chapel (only accessible via stairs), pictures with the lower schoolers, and the opening day precession—something I’d been excited about doing ever since I came to NCS in fourth grade. After the service, my friends helped me carry my bag and get across campus, but going from the Cathedral to Woodley Library might as well be a marathon on crutches. Midway through traversing the crosswalk, my crutches slipped on a wet leaf and gave out again. This time my fall had more than a one-person audience: my friend, the crossing guard, and a group of five or so tourists all bore witness to my misery. I blindly hopped to the sidewalk, fielding copious “ohmygodareyouokay”s as I went. Only when I made it inside the gates did I realize that I’d landed on my bad foot. I left at 11am because it hurt so badly, bringing the total length of my first day of senior year to a grand three hours.
The rest of my first week didn’t go smoothly, either. My parents forced me to switch to using a knee walker scooter, since I obviously couldn’t navigate long-term on crutches. I despise this scooter—I look and feel stupid, and I hate the attention it brings me. Aside from my middle-school-esque insecurities, though, this experience has taught me firsthand that NCS is shockingly inaccessible to people with mobile disabilities.
I can only enter Hearst from the North entrance, yet the elevator is all the way down on the South side. I have Sass rehearsal in the Hearst music room, which is only accessible via stairs, so I have to drag my scooter up while hopping on one foot. The same goes for the study hall where GSA meets. Worse, the only ways to cross from Woodley to Hearst and back without using the stairs are downright laughable. My first option is to go all the way down to North Circle, loop around there, go all the way up the North side of the Cathedral, turn 90 degrees to roll down the concrete leading to Hearst, pass Hearst’s entire East side, turn another 90 degrees, go past the little courtyard, and enter (while, of course, never daring to touch the uneven stones that provide a direct route from the hill stairs to the entrance). Given the lunacy of this route, I instead go up the hill past the bus stop and roll up the bus route. Even this path is ridiculous—there’s a speed bump, and if any bus wants to enter or exit, I’m as good as run over. Yesterday, a UPS truck parked directly in front of the curb cut, and I had to inch past it sideways to avoid falling over. On the first day of classes, a woman stood in front of the curb cut yelling at the bus driver for an obscenely long time, either not noticing or not caring that I needed her to move for me to pass by. I don’t have a single subsequent class in the same building, so I constantly have to go from Hearst to Woodley and back. I’m late to everything.
Woodley is the most accessible building, but its elevator is still on the opposite side from the courtyard gate. The door-opening buttons on the outside of the entrance work, but the one inside the building is broken; when there’s not someone there to help me, I have to simultaneously shoulder the door open, bear its weight, and push my scooter through, all while carrying my heavy backpack of books. Still, though, at least Woodley tries—the other buildings don’t even have buttons to open the doors. For theater and Mads rehearsals, I have to go all the way to STA, which is even less accessible than NCS. Rehearsals are in the evenings, which is when the only accessible exit of Hearst closes for the night (and since Woodley closes at 5, there’s no way to avoid staying in Hearst until rehearsal starts). The emergency exit signs that block the ground doors aren’t real, only meant to dissuade people from going out, but I still have to move all of the barriers away to leave Hearst. The route to STA is almost entirely downhill, which seems nice until you’re barrelling down, unable to stop, at breakneck speed. STA has two elevators, each leading to a separate section of the building. The one that leads to the STA music room is at the end of a long, tiled hallway, far away from either entrance to Marriott Hall. If I use an elevator to get to Trapier Theater, I still have to go up two sets of stairs; if I don’t want to deal with those stairs, the route is three times as long. Even though Marriott Hall is modern and was recently built, it has no auto-opening doors, and I’d legitimately rather fall on my ankle again than navigate the older STA buildings on crutches.
In contrast to the Close’s uninclusive, unwelcoming facilities, everyone I’ve encountered is exceedingly sympathetic and kind. All my teachers check in on me; all my peers are happy to carry bags or grab me a snack from the senior room fridge; all my friends reassure me that I’m not a burden to hang out with because I can’t walk. I’ve even had middle schoolers open doors for me. Everyone is there for me with encouraging words and unwavering smiles. I don’t doubt for a second that everyone on the Close wants to help me—so why does the Close itself feel the exact opposite?
I’ll be back to walking and bearing full weight in a month, but if I had a permanent mobile disability, NCS would be completely out of the question for me. We claim to care so much about inclusivity, but that entirely ignores people with mobility issues. The Close desperately needs to stop excusing its inaccessibility. People get injured all the time; just because we don’t have anyone in permanent wheelchairs or with long-term mobile impairments enrolled here doesn’t mean we can ignore how poorly we accommodate disabled students. Sure, we have old buildings, but we can at least try. Please.