OPINION: Wheelchair users must be better represented at the 5Cs

A white building behind green trees has blue "Pomona College" flags.
If Pomona College wants to pride itself on diversity, it must provide better accessibility for people of all abilities. (Regan Rudman • The Student Life)

I stand out but I’m still alone. Every time I walk to class or the dining hall, I stick out — not because I use something motorized to get around but because I use a wheelchair.

I have seen very few other wheelchair users across the 5Cs. Everyone has been extremely kind to me, and Pomona has given me great accommodations for me to succeed, but I still feel like an abnormality here. 

I walk around in a green wheelchair that everyone recognizes from far away. People who never met me know my name. I stood out back home too, but I hoped that I would not feel as different here because of the emphasis on diversity at the 5Cs. I want to be known for the person I am, not for my disability.

Part of why I feel alone is because I do not think we recognize our diversity of ability. For example, Pomona had an identity group open house during orientation that, according to the schedule, did not include DISCOVR, the disability group. So instead of going with my friends to connect with people with similar identities, I felt isolated in my dorm room. 

It would have been great to connect face to face with people who have similar challenges as me. Having a disability in college comes with extra weekly work, such as getting new accommodations. Having this extra work is inevitable and is no one’s fault, but I wished there was someone there to mentor me about how you manage the extra hours your disability takes with a complete set of classes. I have joined the DISCOVR Discord server and have not seen messages on it that I can apply to my challenges, confirming my feeling of aloneness in my disability. 

Furthermore, in an orientation session, the Pomona presenter said we were the most diverse Pomona class ever. However, there was nothing said about how disability factored into our class profile. 

Every day I am reminded that certain parts of Pomona’s campus were not built for me. For instance, people sometimes have to kindly move their chairs so I can get to my desk. I greatly appreciate the help, but I should be able to move freely throughout the class as my peers do. I should be able to visit my friends and most of my hallmates who live down a few stairs; I can walk some, but it means that if I have a friend living in the next dorm over, I have to walk to it, which is very fatiguing. Elevators are not feasible for every dorm, but those short flights of stairs on many first floors should be ramped.

This is not a hit piece; I am truly happy here, meeting great people and having everything I need. I think the 5Cs are accessible campuses and have the potential to educate and host many wheelchair students, not just a few every year who then feel lonely in their struggles. In an assessment of wheelchair-friendly colleges, the top 20 colleges were found to have a connection between the number of wheelchair users and the colleges’ inclusivity.

I know small liberal arts schools do not have the same ability to offer personal care services and paralympic teams as big schools do. Still, they should be obligated to ensure that multiple wheelchair users are represented in the student body and that they provide for an inclusive inter-able community. I wanted to go to a small school rather than a big one, but I should not have had to sacrifice an inter-abled community to do so. Having an inter-abled community would hopefully mean that I could get to my desk without someone moving furniture, and, at least, go to some of my friends’ dorm rooms.

I hope that all admissions staff across the 5Cs recognize the importance of qualified disabled students’ inclusion as they continue to make classes more diverse. I hope the new Institute for Inclusive Excellence at Pomona pushes for the inclusivity of disabled students. I hope the wheelchair users of the class of ’27 and beyond do not have to experience the same feelings as me.

Max Zonana PO ’26 is from Mountain View, California. He has mild quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

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