This episode is continues to discuss the events that lead to my lawsuit against the University of Miami. The people who became allies and the ones who looked the other way. Being a disabled student at the University of Miami should have been a highlight in my life. Instead, it was a nightmare.
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Welcome to another episode of audaciously speaking with me, Natasha Alvarez. Thank you so much for joining me, as I continue to tell you the story about the elevator. I also want to thank the people who have given me encouragement and positive feedback from the last episode. Remember, this is for you. If you can find something in here to help you get through a challenge, or conquer, obstacle, or even achieved a goal, then it was worth it. I'm making this for you, Bella, and Luke. For that one day, you know, that I went through some things, and I got through it. And this is how I did. This episode is going to continue with the elevator. In the last episode, I told you that everything started from me, going to the bathroom, or me wanting to go to the bathroom, in a campus with no bathroom for somebody in a wheelchair, only a stall with no door. Listen to the last episode, so that you can find out about that, we find out that I got some pretty good help from my professor Adrian paver. And they He told me to go to the plant operations building, not the plantation, which is what I said in the last episode. And I'm very sorry about that. And I found out that entire campus have the blueprints, you have to remember, I am 18 years old. And I have no idea about this. As I'm looking at the blueprint, I'm realizing that there were ways to make the entire campus better for wheelchair users. The more I pushed on campus, the more my classes changed, the more I realized that this was becoming a bigger challenge than what I had originally thought would happen. Now I have two choices. I can even do what many people told me to do. And they said go to another school. Why did you choose this school? No one told you to pick the school. Yes, I received comments like that from other students. And I was really upset about that. Because why are you picking on me? I wouldn't do everything that you're doing. I want to go to activities. I want to go to sports games. I want to go to classes. I want to pee just like you. And why can't I have a bathroom? Just like you? Why can't I go to the dining room just like you. But yet, the University of Miami wants me to pay the same tuition, just like you. Isn't that something? You guys want me to pay the same, but you're not willing to give me the same. That is something that always stayed in the back of my mind, always. So now we're in 1989 and 1990. And I bump into the president of the student body. His name is Erwin. Right? He called the head and he says that he's going to work with me on making campus a better place. I said, Okay, I told him about the building where a person has to use the telephone, because they can't get to the second floor show. If you want to speak to a teacher on that floor, you have to use the telephone. So they will come down to you. Then there are the three major ramps that are so steep, that in order for me to go up the ramps, I have to push faster in order to get some traction to get back up. Point round is easy. Going back up was scary. So the more I opened my eyes to the things that I was struggling with, the more I realized we need to change. Not only did my article for the University of Miami hurricane, open people's eyes, but it also helped me get some more allies. And after a while, some people were coming around and they were saying that I need to write more articles and I need to contract the gene and I need to do this and I need to do that. Everybody has an opinion. But nobody has any actions that they're willing to take with me. One of the major problems that I had was the bookstore. When you go to the bookstore in the Student Union, you go in on the first floor, everybody does you meet everyone. And once you go inside, if you want to go to the second floor, you have to go up the steps. No elevator, or show, I was told, I went ahead, and I told them, I would have wanted to get my books, just like everyone else. And they told me to follow them. So I did. So I follow him behind some closed doors that lead to a book storage room. And there was a freight elevator, a service elevator, which is a solid door with a window on the top. And you open that door, and you pull on it. And then you have an accordion door. Once you enter the elevator, you close the solid door, and then you close the accordion door. This is what I used my entire time on campus. It was the only thing that was available to available to me, or so I thought. One day though, that elevator wasn't working, and I had to get to the second floor. One of the employees told me to follow him. So I did. And we use the elevator in the breezeway to go up to the second floor where there was a door that he unlocked. And it pleased to meet right there in the bookstore. I told him, why don't I use this? And he said, because no one's going to hear you. I go, why don't you place above your ringer something? because no one's going to hear you. This is much easier for us to remember that people. So I said, Okay, well, I told Irwin, who is the president of the student body that I wanted to do a tour. And I wanted to put all of the leaders in a wheelchair, a manual one, and they would have to go all over the campus, so they can see what I have to deal with on a regular basis. Long story short, it happened. And Dr. flipsie was able to get some manual wheelchairs, but they were the really ugly kind, the ones that they have in the hospital, which is perfect, because they're very difficult to handle. And I think that's exactly what these gentlemen needed. One of the gentlemen was Dr. William Butler. Oh, very nice, man. Very, very nice. And he agreed to go and sit in the wheelchair. Irwin also used a wheelchair, an architect, I think used one and a plant operation person did. So there were several of us. There was even an article written on it at the University of Miami hurricane. So if you can look up, look for it in the archives, you could find it there. Anyway, we're about to start the tour. When Dr. Butler says he has to use the bathroom. Even as I tell this story, I laugh, because didn't it all start with a bathroom? And I went ahead and I said, Okay, so he's about to get up. And I said, No, no, no, you can't get up. The tour has started. And one of his assistants said, looked at me and said, Natasha, he has used the bathroom and I go show did I show it if you want me to use that bathroom? He can use it too. Now, everyone thought I had stepped over the line. They're like, Whoa, you cannot talk to the team this way. In my mind, I do see a title. In my mind. All I thought was, you're on tour, you're agreed to go on this tour. And I want to pee just like you. So what's the problem? Well, Dr. Butler, it's so nice. And he said, She's right. I agree to this. And he goes into the men's bathroom. And he comes back out. And he says I can't, I can't get in there. So I laugh and I go That's okay. You can go into the girls bathroom. But I will tell you now that there's not going to be any privacy. But don't worry, we'll stand outside and we'll guard the door. And so he did. We came back out and he said, Okay, I'm ready. And I realized the problem but the bathroom that needs to get fixed. I said fantastic. But then one of the Men was thirsty and wanted to use the water thumb. Of course, I don't use that, because they're never, for me, they're never my height. And if they are my height, they're so long that they touch the bottom of the, of the floor that you can put the wheelchair under. So the water fountains are useless for me. And I watch as he tries and fumbles, and water spills all over his shirt. It was a lot of fun to watch. And I said, Okay, are we ready for the tour? And they're like, yes. So we go all over campus, one gentleman falls out of the wheelchair, because the ramp is so steep, that he falls boom, back. It was hilarious. But of course, I was like, Oh, my gosh, are you okay? And I'm thinking, of course, he's okay. He's not really disabled patients in a wheelchair for a little bit, he's gonna be fine. And by the end of the tour, they realize this is hard. Their hands were dirty, they were tired. They couldn't handle the doors. They weren't able to maneuver that heavy George and their wheelchairs. And we ended up at the bookstore. And I said, Let's go, let's go get some books. Well, by now they're really tired. And we went all the way up to with a bookstore, the fried, elevated located, but we didn't use it. Because they realize how complicated this was. And they asked me, Is this what you do all the time? And I said, Yes. Every single time, I have to get books. I go up there. And they said, Well, why don't you just ask one of them to bring the books down for you? And I said, Why? Is that what you do for everyone else? Why can't I go and get my books dressed like everyone else? And they all agreed? They said, Yes, you're right. I said, Okay, I was really excited. I thought, Oh, my gosh, I opened their eyes, there's going to be changed on campus. As a matter of fact, everything started looking better. Even the University of Miami hurricane, wrote an editorial supporting my tour and shaming president foot for not going on the tour. And they made a little cartoon that said that he's better off that he chose to be in his air conditioned office on his leather office chair that has wheels. It was something like that, which is really good. And you can see that in the archives. I was excited. I'm like, Yes, I'm making change, I can't believe this. things are gonna happen. I would feel so happy. And I told them, we need to do this before somebody gets hurt. Well, it looked like everything was going really well. So Irwin says to me, Natasha, I have some news for you. And I go create, what is it? And he says to me, they're going to make changes on campus. And he gives me some figure like, I don't know how much money it was people, okay, we have X amount of money. And Student Union, the student body is going to put X amount of money, and we're going to make changes. And I go, What do you mean, X amount of money? So we're only limited to the amount of funds that we have? And he says to me, yes. And I go, Why? And he said, because they don't have that much in their budget. And I remember so clearly, that I said to him, Are you kidding? Do you have any idea? The tuition that people pay for the school? The University of Miami is one of the most expensive schools in Florida, if not the United States. And you're going to tell me, they don't have money. Have you seen the cars that the football players drive? Have you seen their jewelry? Have you seen the basketball players? Are you kidding me? And he said, Patrick, honestly, this is I think they're doing really well. And an earl is very diplomatic and trying to calm me down and tell me that, you know, this is good. And I'm like, No, it's not. And I have to tell her when, obviously you don't know about section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. And now we have the Americans with Disability Act. They have money, they can do it. So Erwin said this is what he told me. So let's make a list of what needs to be done. I said, that's fine. We'll do that. But I'm letting you know that if these changes are not made all over campus, someone's gonna get hurt. And then they're gonna regret it. I think this is the part that I would consider foreshadowing. Because in my senior year, on my birthday, which is January 9, I went to the bookstore that was on the second floor, coming down the free elevator with my friend, David Williams. And we were going down there when I look. And I can see, on the solid door, there's a window on the top. And I see a woman with a stroller, a baby stroller, and there's a baby in there. So she pulled the solid door. And then she opens up the accordion door. Halfway. Once she sees me, she steps back. But she holds falador. My friend who's with me, David Williams, he opens the rest of the accordion door and I push out. And I fall there has to be at least a 12 inch drop. Later on the elevator company claims that's not true. So I guess we're just going to pretend that a bunch of ghosts lifted my wheelchair up and dropped me on the ground. Because the next thing you know, I hit the cement. The first thing I do is trip my teeth. I always check my teeth. First, whenever I fall, I don't know why. I guess I have the spirit all my teeth are gonna come out. And the paramedics come and they help me back onto the wheelchair. Now it turns out, I have broken my breastbone. I have broken my ribs, my hip, my pelvis. And something happens to my left lung. It's not collapsed. But it's something it's injury. It's no longer as healthy as it used to be. When I go to the hospital for all of that, I convinced myself I'm just going to get back up and go to school. Not a big deal. My birthday, I've got to go. My mind was so convinced that nothing was going to, you know, stop me from my normal plans. And I spent the rest of that week in and out of pain medication. I see Dr. Butler, I fall asleep. I see my own Dean, Dr. Rita Deutsch. And I go back to sleep. People are coming in people are coming out. And Dr. Rita George says to me, we're going to help you we're going to get you some classes while you heal. And I told her, What do you mean? I'm going back to school? She looks at me and she says no, Honey, you're not. And then my mom explained that I have to be in bed for about six to eight weeks in order to completely heal. And it was if my life crumbled. I was a woman with plans. I was a woman with goals. I had to do this, because that was the next step. The goal was go to college, get a degree, go to law school, be a lawyer conquer the world. Those were my plans. That's how I was raised. That's what I was told. That is who I was. And now I fell out of an elevator in my entire life is upside down. And I cry because my life is upside down. I go home and I'm stuck there for six to eight weeks. All this could have been avoided if the University of Miami had been true to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and not use money as an excuse to not be in compliance. And that's the truth. It has nothing to do with the ADA. Although it was 1992 and they had two years. They still had way more time because of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It was a very, very sad time in my life. It was very unhappy. And I cried a lot at night. Because everything was banished. I will tell you, as I conclude this episode, that people enter your life. And sometimes they are background characters, and sometimes their main characters. And Dr. Rita George became a major character. Because she found a way to give me two classes that I can take while home. And she was so sweet. She said, Natasha, I know that you are going to go crazy at home doing nothing. So I'm going to give you two classes. I spoke to the professors. And they said, Okay. One class was creative writing. And the other class was mystery authors. I loved both classes. If it wasn't for her. I don't know what I would have done. And they sat home and healed. There's more to the healing process. But I'm not going to get into that right now. Right now, I want you to stay with the idea that I had to pee. I've found more mistakes that could have been resolved. I took action. I tried to get people to help me resolve an issue. And yet, somehow I was being given another blow. Would I rise? When I just sit down and you know, pick my scab, lick my wounds, have a pity party? Or was I going to do something about it? We'll find out next time. What I'd like you to do is share this episode or any other episode with someone you know. Go to Natasha alvarez.com that is na T h as h a alvrez.com. And pick up your free PDF. You will be signed up to a newsletter. Don't worry, I haven't done any newsletters yet. But you will be and get ready for the next episode where I tell you what happens during the healing time. Thank you so much and we will talk soon