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Handicap-friendly equipment needed

By Roland Teadhy     4/19/12 7:00pm

Rice University holds a special place in my life and memory. During the two years I spent pursuing my master's in mechanical engineering here at Rice, I developed a love and respect for the intellectual freedom and joyful creativity of this institution. So much respect that I still visit Willy's Pub on occasion to enjoy Rice's current atmosphere and maybe make some new friends in the process. There's nothing like sharing a cold Bud Light with a younger scholar still on the path to becoming an Owl.

Due to my lifelong pursuit of physical fitness and my post-Rice research endeavors in biomechanics and bioengineering, I was excited when I heard of the plans for the new Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center back in 2008. The difference in campus amenities available at Rice in 1973 compared to today is significant, to say the least. The only campus feature that I can remember encouraging exercise was the annual invasion of blackbirds: the ubiquitous coating of droppings they left behind prompted most students to avoid the muck and walk the long way around campus. I have been jogging ever since my graduate years and had recently grown to love the benefits of running a few miles while looking out on a lovely day through the gym's large glass expanse of windows - which is why it was such a tragic occurrence when, over this past winter, a fluke boating accident left me paralyzed from the waist down. The healing process, as expected, has been tough. But my wheelchair has at least offered me a redemptive taste of mobility and the rewarding joy of constant physical exertion.

I must admit that my previously mentioned research on mobility systems optimization made me an apt pupil in the way of the wheel. Initially clumsy with my maneuvering and quick to tire, I have quickly spun myself into an adroit wheelist. My post-accident loss of mobility left me despondent at first, but the re-discovery of motion through my wheelchair has proven nothing short of revolutionary.



Therefore, it is to my great disappointment that my favorite hobby at Rice has been rendered inaccessible to me. The treadmills in the recreation center should be open to all of our community, not just the dual-pedal dominant class. I am calling for the socially responsible renovation of the recreation center to allow for equal access to unconventional wheeldom. Just as the rest of the university is constructed with equal-access in mind, so too should the treadmills be.

In recognition of the dire economic environment and the always-strained nature of university budgets, I am asking only for one of the gym's treadmills to be modified for access. I have recently come across one Japanese company's easy to install mechanical track-and-harness treadmill modification: For roughly $10,000, the Myrola tread-mod will bring equality to exercise at Rice.

Since there would be only one handicap-track, that treadmill would be exclusively reserved for disabled travelers-of-simulated-distances. Undergraduate students attempting to impress their friends with stunts like riding office chairs on the Myrola would be dealt with by gym faculty and have to endure the very same shame as handicap-bathroom-stall squatters.

I call on President David Leebron and the Board of Trustees to make this reform in the same spirit that President George H.W. Bush did when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and said, "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down."

Roland Teadhy is a graduate of the class of 1973.



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