You may have seen him zip down Locust Walk or Spruce Street outfitted in a sock monkey hat. You may have even had a philosophy class with him. You might have read one of his jokes in the The Pennsylvania Punch Bowl or his byline online on The Sports Quotient. Many students have seen College sophomore Luke Hoban zoom around campus in his wheelchair, but may not know that he lives with Congenital Muscular Dystrophy.
Despite his disease, he has few problems getting around campus, except for a few inconveniences, he said. Hoban has also stayed active by playing wheelchair hockey for the Philadelphia PowerPlay for 10 years, participating in tournaments across the U.S. and Canada.
Hoban was born with the disease, which affects the way that his brain communicates with his muscles, preventing them from being used and causing them to atrophy. He said it is “like when you take your arm out of a cast finally, you’re going to have a hard time moving it for a while. For me, it’s the same basic premise, but everywhere.
“The only thing it doesn’t affect is my heart, thank God,” Hoban added.
Hoban grew up outside of Philadelphia and got his first motorized chair at the start of kindergarten.
“I remember being drunk with power when I first got my chair,” he said. “I could drive around with it, say ‘ha-ha’ and feel pretty cool.”
But his new mobile powers were not unlimited.
He recalled being pulled out of kindergarten to go to the dentist against his will. When he tried to escape, “My parents just [turned off] my chair and I was stopped in my tracks. I was not happy,” Hoban said.
Hoban’s current wheelchair can go seven miles an hour, allowing him to traverse the Philadelphia cold faster than most students walking.
With great speed comes great responsibility, however.
“I run into people a ton. People always apologize, saying ‘oh, I’m so sorry,’ but really it’s my fault. I know how fast I’m going — I’m the maniac,” Hoban said with a laugh. “It was difficult at first to avoid running into people. I’ve gotten better at it over time, and I’m pretty good at it now, but nobody’s perfect.”
Penn aims to make Hoban’s path through college as smooth as possible. Hoban said he has been satisfied with campus accessibility and Student Disability Services for the most part. He has lived in accessible housing on campus for the past two years and has a clicker to open his dormitory door without keys. Hoban is also allowed a laptop in all his classes to take notes.
There are, however, some speed bumps along his path to an Ivy League education. He noted that there are two major inconvenient locations on campus.
“I can get into the buildings, but some of them require detours that are inconvenient,” he said. He mentioned Van Pelt Library, which has a small door near the bottom of the steps, meaning he must wave and hope someone will let him inside.
“Some places require you to swipe your PennCard to get in, but I can’t do it, I don’t have the strength to do it,” Hoban said. “I have to get someone’s attention inside and have them do it ... which is inconvenient.”
Another particularly inconvenient building to enter is Stiteler Hall. In order to get to the accessible entrance from Locust Walk, “I have to go all the way around because of one step,” Hoban said. “I have to take a long detour when I’m coming up through campus, and it’s especially inconvenient when it’s cold out.”
He also said that elevators could sometimes cause trouble. “Some of the elevators and entrances are better than others, but it’s something I’ve been doing all my life. It’s just not a concern for me,” Hoban said. “The only elevator that’s legitimately terrible is the one in the Quad. That is the worst elevator I’ve been in in my entire life.”
Hoban lived in the Quadrangle for his freshman year, but said that he could only get into the Cafe at McClelland and his own hall. “The Quad is by far the least accessible building on campus,” he said. Hoban now lives in Harrison College House, which is much easier for him to get around.
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