Making Sophing Accessible

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

September 5, 2008 Ed Cartoon

Becoming a soph is a much sought after position on campus. While fun, the hard work and long hours can make the job physically tolling. So should physical disabilities be considered when making the selection?

The University Students’ Council took a proactive step in convening a committee specifically targeted towards improving the accessibility of Orientation Week. The issue of whether it takes a certain physical standard to be a soph is an intriguing one.

Thousands of upper-year students apply to become a part of the O-Week experience each year. The standards are high and only a few are selected.

A physical disability sets serious limits to the abilities of a soph, who are normally expected to carry frosh luggage up the stairs and lead cheers on the grassy and wheelchair inaccessible Talbot Bowl. With these limitations in mind, it is easy to understand why an individual with physical disabilities may not be the best suited to become a soph.

However, with 800 sophs working on campus, surely Orientation Staff can make accommodations. An individual with disabilities can find different ways to contribute instead of doing walk-homes or carrying fridges.

Even if allowances are made for some sophs, could it lead to a slippery slope for O-Week standards?

Every soph is required to attend mandatory training prior to O-Week, but what if an illness or personal problems prevents them from attending? Are these situations also deserving of extra accommodations, or should Western say “too bad?”

There are other leadership opportunities available on campus without a physical dimension. After all, from clubs to council, there are hundreds of leadership positions available at Western.

But in the end, Western promotes itself as the best student experience for all and it needs to back up its promise.

The key is deciding where to draw the line. When a situation out of a students’ control limits their ability to participate fully at Western, then accommodations are necessary.

What counts in a soph is not solely their physical state, but their emotional passion and attitude towards frosh. The installation of a few ramps at the bottom of Talbot Bowl, and perhaps some more alternative programming options for dance nights are a few relatively simple solutions.

With a little more planning and organization, O-Week could be a much more accessible event for all sorts of people " both frosh and sophs.

In a week that can be intimidating no matter what your background, it is important to make all possible efforts to include everyone. A leader with disabilities could be a powerful resource for frosh with a challenge of their own " whether physical or otherwise.

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