Show a little respect

NIU’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities might be in compliance with the law as far as the U.S. Department of Education is concerned, but it has a little further to go in terms of common decency, at least in one recent incident.

Paul Robinson, a blind NIU student, took a few rides in the rain from Neptune West to the Music Building on the Student Association Mass Transit Board’s FreedomMobile, a vehicle used to transport handicapped students.

Although the Star has not verified this fact, no weapon was placed to the bus driver’s head who gave Robinson a lift.

For these acts of piracy, high-jacking or common sense on the part of a full-grown man to avoid staggering halfway across campus to class in inclement weather without aid, NIU felt Robinson needed to be made an example of.

Robinson, a self-assured, even distinguished gentleman, was punished and scolded like a schoolboy who didn’t raise his hand before speaking out in class.

He was denied his bus “privileges” for one week. His name was announced to all Huskie Bus Drivers over the radio as a potential highjacker who should not be allowed on board. Signs were also in place to keep drivers wary of the villainous blind man.

Robinson was a little offended to say the least. He’s old enough to be any member of this editorial board’s father and didn’t feel he needed to be punished for accepting rides. University officials, mainly Services for Students with Disabilities Coordinator Sue Reinhardt, felt he did.

After all, policy says that the FreedomMobile is not supposed to be used to get from point A to point B on campus. It can be used to get to points off-campus or from off-campus to on-campus.

If Robinson was trying to get a ride to Molly’s to tie one on, everything would have been cool. The motivation of his crime, getting to class in one piece, was the problem.

That’s the policy. Well it’s a lousy policy, but that’s beside the point.

This guy was honestly concerned about his safety. He wasn’t merely trying to bilk the FreedomMobile out of gas money. He just wanted to get to class.

Robinson is not the greatest cane-walker in the world, which he’d probably freely admit. Add wind, rain, ice and traffic into the equation and a 20-minute walk across campus can turn into a terrifying death march.

Yeah, it’s a big school and we simply can’t grant every request under the sun, but it seems Robinson’s problem could be better solved or at least deserves the decency to be recognized rather than whitewashed because the U.S. Dept. of Education says NIU is in compliance of civil rights codes.

Maybe there “never were complaints before,” but there are now. NIU should have taken a proactive position in the Robinson matter. Instead they got very defensive and it became a shame-on-you game.