• Pari Jain

Cerebral Palsy and Campus Policies

Antonio and Makaelyn were accepted into the world's best universities despite persevering through cerebral palsy. Then, came the policies.

There was a celebration on July 26, 2020, but the festivities just didn’t entirely feel right. This day marked the 30 year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, but there are still a variety of challenges and hurdles facing the battle for accessibility. Between healthcare, employment, education, and social accessibility, the community of people with disabilities knows that there is an unbelievable amount of blockades to still overcome. And Antonio Milane, a member of Stanford’s class of 2025 addressed one of his campaigns perfectly when he said, “Get disabled people into college.”

Antonio Milane is a first-generation college student who will be attending Stanford this fall. But unlike many of his classmates, he is also a student who had to fight Stanford University for accessibility because he has cerebral palsy.

As stated by the CDC, cerebral palsy (CP) is “a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.” Furthermore, “CP is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control [their] muscles.”

Over the last few weeks, Milane charged social media with undiscussed issues faced by many people with disabilities when it comes to post-secondary education. A challenge that he faced himself. He produced a virtual campaign to call out Stanford for originally not providing him aid to meet his needs, and his message caught the eyes of many high school students in the graduating class of 2021 and beyond. He showed the general population how even a university that is considered a dream school to people around the world can still cause challenges for people who have special needs.

Antonio's social media pressure led to nearly 75,000 signatures on a Change.org petition and prominent Tweets.

Antonio Milane needed Stanford to provide him a scribe, someone to write for him. Cerebral palsy impacts a variety of people in different ways.

The perfect way that Milane described his current situation to me was by sharing that he would receive calculus problems to complete for homework, and that each problem would take him one hour to complete—not because he couldn’t think of the answer, but rather because he struggles to articulate his knowledge onto paper.

With 20 problems to do, those impediments begin to rack up. He realized that he needed a scribe to get through the day and aid him in completing his assignments. Just how much of a difference this assistance makes becomes clear when you look at Antonio’s academic trajectory. He shared how in his freshman year he was at a lower academic level because he could not write as fast as students without special needs, but the moment he gained a scribe he was able to enter AP classes and perform to the best of his ability.

Prior to his experience with Stanford, he shared how even in high school he had to run a campaign for his own rights for his school to provide him with a scribe to complete his assignments.

In several schools, across the entire educational pipeline, and even between educators, there is a shared idea of ableism. Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities and/or people who are perceived to be disabled. Unfortunately, ableism is a natural mindset to people where they believe that everyone was born with the talents and abilities to do the same things as them. Of course, that is not true. This means that while people assume that everyone has their needs met and they are all included, the reality is much more stark. A prime example of this was shared by Makaelyn Thrash, an incoming freshman to Harvard’s class of 2025 who also has cerebral palsy. In high school, Makaelyn shared with me that “[her] school honestly was not the best at meeting [her] needs. There were several award ceremonies with stairs and no railing or other inconveniences/difficulties.” This made me realize that while many of us know that accessibility for people with disabilities needs to be met as a basic human right, this mindset does not often translate into deliberate restorative actions.

Stanford is not alone in their transgressions. Harvard (above) recently settled a disability accessibility lawsuit too.

Communicating with Makaeyln and Antonio about their passions and drive is the most outstanding of conversations because while they sadly knew there would be barriers along their pathways as persons with disabilities, they accomplished their goals to reach their dream schools for post-secondary education at Harvard and Stanford respectively. Makaelyn plans to concentrate in Neuroscience with the Mind, Brain, Behavior honors track as well as pursue a secondary in Human Evolutionary Biology, and ten years from now wants to be a radiology resident. At the moment, Antonio is not fully sure what he’ll study, but he wants to become an attorney for people with disabilities. WIthout a doubt, their drive is going to help change the world.

In the process of applying to universities such as Harvard and Stanford, people often look online to find someone who came from a similar life story that they had or the same upbringing. As unique as someone may be, these schools have been open to public applications for over a century, and in the case of Harvard over three centuries.

Applicants with conditions like cerebral palsy simply don’t have the luxury of finding prior examples. They are the trailblazers.

As applications neared, Makaelyn and Antonio struggled to find a mentor to give them guidance. Milane even mentioned that he would spend large amounts of time looking for people who got in with cerebral palsy in order to know that he could make it too. Now, he hopes to be that person for future students like him.

As I came to the end of my conversations with MaKaelyn and Antonio, I agreed with them entirely that there needs to be more support, mentorship, and awareness to destroy the gates that prevent people with disabilities from entering post-secondary education. Anybody with a disability should be allowed to embark towards careers and education without having to worry about their basic rights being met. As MaKaelyn mentioned, “as society progresses in many ways, I hope it also becomes more open-minded when it comes to the education and employment of those with special needs.” They should also be allowed to dream big and achieve those dreams. The past 30 years of legislation have brought us to this point. The next 30 must see Stanford do better, Makaelyn’s high school do better, and each of us do better.

Pari Jain is a rising freshman at the University of California Berkeley's Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology program studying industrial engineering and business. Growing up with a deaf brother, she has become an advocate for disability rights and access.

Cover: Change.org


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