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  • Angeline H.

​Becoming My Own Roll-Model

Updated: Mar 26

My first ever journey into activism was in fifth grade. 

I remember organizing with a group of my fellow students to protest the removal of our juice boxes and the subsequent replacement with chocolate milk. Ever since then, I have been a loud and proud person. Passion was my middle name. I was one of the only kids in my rural high school with bright hair and a loud voice, fighting against injustices in between taking classes.

When I started college at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), I was beyond excited. I could finally be in a place with fellow loud and proud people. I walked in, feeling like I belonged. However, when I leave, I will be rolling out, knowing I helped make other students on campus feel like they also belonged there.

I became a wheelchair user in my first year of college, seemingly out of nowhere. I got diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder, which brought on rare comorbidities that affected my spinal cord. For the first time in eight years, I felt my voice waver. I toned myself down and quieted my voice, unsure how to adjust to a world that was not made for me. I had started at RIT dreaming of things like studying abroad. When I began using a wheelchair, I thought my life and all my dreams were ruined. I couldn't imagine living my whole life like this.

A white woman with long black hair, wearing all black with glasses while looking off to the left.

At the time, RIT didn’t have a club or group of any type for disabled students. We had only recently gotten a disabled Director of Disability Services. Any time I had researched the term “wheelchair” with “RIT,” old articles remarking on the inaccessibility had come up — inaccessibility that had not been made better years later when I read them. I knew something needed to change.

It was at this point in my journey that the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I was stranded on campus for more time than I knew what to do with. With this abundance of free time, I decided it was time to change things, not only for myself, but for others. I embraced my colorful hair, dyeing it on the floor of my dorm room, and started the journey to gain back my passion in any way that I could.

In my second year here, I joined student government, landing a job as a committee chair where I could directly influence campus and its accessibility. I joined the group that plans new student orientation, writing and creating programming to make it accessible and to teach my coworkers how to better accommodate disabled students. However, even as I joined these parts of campus that broadcasted their diversity and inclusion, I struggled. Accommodations weren’t commonplace. Even on “fun” off-campus work retreats, I had to fight to be included as my coworkers swam in pools at the bottom of grassy hills with no paths and whitewater kayakers. I sat atop the hills, looking out over them alone.

In my third year here, I started an Instagram page dedicated to broadcasting the access barriers I faced every day, like when I tried going to the bathroom, going to class, or going back to my university housing. This didn't come without its share of pushback. Peers would comment, sometimes multiple times a day, to troll me and comment that they wouldn't care if I, or other disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised people, died. This bullying did not stop my advocacy, because I also founded the RIT chapter of the Campus Access Network and co-founded the RIT Disability Culture Center this year.

At the present time, I am heading into my fourth year here at RIT. I am working as a design consultant on projects with and for disabled clients in the Greater Rochester area, as well as researching zoo and aquaria accessibility. I have finally found my voice, my calling. With this gift returned to me, I hope to continue to design a world that is more accessible, no matter the barriers I face and no matter who stands in my way.

Angeline H. is a Sociology & Anthropology, and Disability Studies student, researcher, and designer from Boca Raton, FL. She enjoys macaroni and cheese, trying new accessible adventures, and researching new things. She currently lives with her best friends and their cat, Goose.


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