The first steps to after graduating from UGA are the ones taken under the Arch, but Khaled Alsafadi will not be able to take part in that tradition — at least not yet.
Situated between the University of Georgia’s North Campus and historic downtown Athens, the Arch is a landmark to the UGA and Athens community.
But for students and alumni with disabilities, it represents an example of inequality.
Alsafadi, along with classmate Carden Wyckoff, has created a petition on Change.org, which went live Wednesday afternoon to make the Arch accessible.
"I understand that it's not going to be done by the time I graduate," said Alsafadi, a senior majoring in psychology from Suwanee. "I'll have to come back and go through it, but what I really want to do is to leave something behind for all other students, so they are able to go through it."
In an e-mail statement to Alsafadi sent Thursday afternoon, Victor Wilson, vice president for student affairs, wrote, "I wanted to let you know that for special occasions, such as Commencement, the University is considering options to install a temporary access ramp and platform leading through the UGA Arch."
In the past, architects have proposed placing temporary platforms around the Arch during graduation for those with mobility impairments, but Alsafadi dismissed this option because it is not what he is aiming for.
"I want something aesthetically pleasing and permanent for everyone to go through," Alsafadi said. "And it's not just people in wheel chairs. It's anyone with mobility impairments — anyone with a walker, anyone with a crutch, anyone who can't walk up steps."
Wilson wrote to Alsafadi that including a ramp "would enable students and other community members with mobility impairments to participate fully in a symbolic pass through the Arch that has been associated with UGA special occasions.”
Alsafadi said he also approached the Disability Resource Center for help.
"The DRC said this comes up every four or five years and then it’s not done," he said. "They tell us we have access from Herty Drive. But for anyone with a disability, that's a long way to get to the Arch, and for some people, every step counts."
Wilson wrote he knows Alsafadi is aware this issue has been raised at times through the years, but he wrote, "It is my understanding that access to the Arch has been determined to be in compliance with ADA regulations."
The lack of equality created from the access to the Arch has bothered Alsafadi since freshman year. About a month ago, he teamed up with Wyckoff to start changing things.
Wilson said that though the options may not represent the permanent resolution that Alsafadi and his partners may desire, he hopes he will see these efforts as a further reflection of the University’s long-standing commitment to ensure equal access and opportunity.
Wyckoff helped launched a Facebook page Feb. 23 called Make UGA's Arch Accessible.
"We are trying to get students, faculty, alumni and community members on board because changing the Arch is huge," said Wyckoff, a junior majoring in biological science from Marietta. "It's an iconic symbol. So we wanted to make sure everyone is okay with it."
The page has received more than 1,600 likes, as of press time, and is continuing to grow.
"We are so humbled and so blown away by the amount of support and responses we have received from the community," Wyckoff said. "We had no idea it would explode like this."
Like Alsafadi, Wyckoff wants to make the change to pave the way for future generations.
"Not only do I want to leave my mark on UGA, I want to be able to make an impact on future bulldogs," Wyckoff said. "And for those that come after me, I want to be able to see their smiling faces walk through the Arch with pride and confidence and not have to worry about that issue so they can say d---, it's great to be a bulldog."
Wyckoff said it would not only mean a lot to her to see this change happen, but it would show UGA in a positive light.
"It would not only show that UGA is a leader but also a highly regarded institution for education and treating its family all equally despite their disabilities or mobility," Wyckoff said.
Alsafadi, who is in a wheelchair, and Wyckoff, who wears braces to walk, recruited the help of Marquise Lane, who uses a walker, to present three different types of students who would benefit from making the Arch accessible.
Lane was unavailable for comment.
Alsafadi said he sees this needed change as something all student can benefit from.
"UGA making this accessible symbolizes their ongoing effort to create equality for all students in the whole UGA family," Alsafadi said, "regardless of their mobility or disability."