Being disabled is not, has not and will never be a tragedy in Joey Hagemeier’s world. Hagemeier was born blind and lived a normal childhood, going to school and playing in the backyard with his siblings.
He completed two years of community college in his hometown, Sierra Vista, Arizona. Now, at 26, he is a junior enrolled in ASU’s social work program. His love of social work and the readily available resources offered by the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired brought him to ASU.
As a first-year ASU student, Hagemeier is living in Taylor Place, the dorms on the Downtown Phoenix campus. He considers his dorm experience to be relatively normal.
“I just carry on living here like everyone else does. I do chores, I clean like everyone does…”
However, being blind and living in Taylor Place can present some unique difficulties. Hagemeier has been forced to turn to the ASU DPC & Taylor Place Residents 2016-2017 Facebook page to voice his frustration with some of the other residents.
In the posts, Hagemeier explains that some of his peers are making it harder for him to navigate Taylor Place. Unnamed students have been jumping over, kicking or completely disregarding his cane. Hagemeier needs his cane and any damage done to his mobility tool could result in the loss of his independence.
“They either walk over it like it’s a bridge, run at me and trip on it which tells me they’re not paying attention to their surroundings, or they kick it off the ground like it’s in the way … if it breaks, I can’t leave my dorm room,” Hagemeier said.
Martin Becerra-Miranda, a Cane Travel Instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind, explains the implications of obstructing, intentionally or unintentionally, a blind person's path.
"As blind individuals we rely strongly on our hearing, logical thinking and sifting through the data our cane gives us in order to determine a safe path to take to our chosen destination," Becerra-Miranda said. "When any of those tools are taken away or interfered with, our ability to quickly and accurately choose a safe and practical path is diminished."
Following his Facebook posts, Hagemeier’s community assistant, Triston Koen, reached out to him to ask a few questions and then directed him to the Disability Resource Center.
Another community assistant, Meghan Finnerty, commented on the post assuring Hagemeier that she and other leaders of Taylor Place would reach out to their residents and encouraged them to be more careful and considerate of he and his cane.
Taylor Place leadership has since refused to comment.
Nearing the end of the semester, not much has changed.
“Just last Saturday somebody got my cane so hard it was knocked clear from my hand and onto the floor,” Hagemeier said.
Another Taylor Place resident and journalism sophomore, Jacklyn Halversen is also disabled. She has Rheumatoid Arthritis, which requires her to use a cane to walk.
"I’m not really surprised that people have kicked Joey’s cane ... I’ve had my fair share of problems with my peers in Taylor Place," Halversen said.
She explains that sometimes her inability to take the stairs irritates her peers.
"I’ve been cussed out, yelled at and even physically assaulted," Halversen said.
Hagemeier is excited about the panel the DRC has planned for January, where students will have the opportunity to ask people with disabilities about their circumstances and the tools they use to get around.
"It is important that everyone remembers that students with disabilities are students first. We should not assume that they need or want help, but we can always ask if they need help," said Chad Price, DRC director.
Price recognizes that it may be uncomfortable for sighted students to reach out to a blind peer and ask them if they need help.
"The best approach is simply to communicate and speak up. Let the student know you are there and introduce yourself," Price said.
Meenah Rincon, media relations officer, provided a statement on behalf of ASU.
"Arizona State University is committed to providing an environment free of discrimination, harassment or retaliation for the entire ASU community and providing a safe learning environment. We hold all of our students to a high-standard, and we expect students to maintain an educational environment that encourages diversity and inclusivity."
Reach the reporter at Kendra.Penningroth@asu.edu or follow @KPenningroth on Twitter.