Thursday, July 18

Editorial: Administrators should look out for ableism, prioritize students with disabilities


Even the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act becoming law couldn’t stop the addition of ableist signs to UCLA’s campus.

Earlier this month, the university adorned elevators in Bunche Hall with signs proclaiming “Free workout just steps away,” to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the elevator. A university spokesperson said the signs are part of a psychology health research project to measure elevator use.

This isn’t the first time these kinds of signs have popped up on campus – similar ones went up in 2014. Signs like these perpetuate the notion that taking the elevator is lazy, shaming students with disabilities, visible or not, for using a tool that may be vital to their mobility.

But the problem is bigger than just distasteful signs. Students with disabilities have complained about the quality of services provided to them, and it’s clear the administration has tended to overlook the experiences and needs of those with disabilities – or has simply considered them an afterthought.

UCLA needs to shed this mentality and actively consider the needs of those with disabilities. And it can start by improving its mobility services in ways such as allocating more resources for the Center for Accessible Education’s ride services and increasing maintenance of elevators on campus.

This isn’t to say UCLA doesn’t provide services for students with disabilities; rather, it’s that these services, on several occasions, fall short.

There have been complaints about campus sign language interpreters being unprofessional or missing classes. Students also expressed serious concerns about ableist elevator signs showing up on campus, which UCLA claims isn’t a problem for the current signs because they sport the words “if possible” to supposedly not offend those with disabilities – a meager attempt, to say the least.

Campus transportation services aren’t any better. CAE provides transportation to academic programs and campus activities throughout the week for those with disabilities. Rides, however, must be booked at least 24 hours in advance and are limited on weekends, greatly limiting access to things like last-minute review sessions or sudden trips to the library.

Add in that elevator maintenance is scarce, as shown by how frequently permits are outdated, and people with disabilities have even fewer mobility options because of able-bodied students’ use of elevators and access ramps.

It’s high time UCLA prioritized the needs of those with disabilities, and improving its campus mobility services, be that through enabling same-day CAE rides or ensuring campus elevators operate correctly, is the first step to doing that.

Of course, students registered with CAE have designated counselors who work with them to resolve accessibility concerns. But that’s just another example of UCLA merely reacting to grievances, not proactively trying to meet needs. Considering the university has allowed for things like offensive elevator signs and a proposal to create enforced ride-hailing zones that could impede those with disabilities, it’s clear the current approach is outdated.

[Editorial: UCLA should encourage ride-hailing zones, not enforce with citations]

UCLA certainly takes steps to improve campus accessibility for those with disabilities. But the administration’s approach to adding these improvements is far too reactive to adequately meet all the needs of students with disabilities. And providing CAE with more resources would be a good start.

And sure, actively prioritizing the concerns of students with disabilities will be difficult. But doing so might at least prove to be a good – and free – workout for administrators.

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  • Man with Axe

    I can’t comment about the quality of services available to the disabled, but your complaints about signs are absurd. A sign that encourages people to take the stairs is not insulting to those who can’t take stairs. Such people are simply not the intended audience.

    Consider: Why have signs at all if blind people can’t read them? Why have signs in English and Spanish when there are plenty of people who only speak other languages? Why have a gym at all when having one excludes the paralyzed. Why even have a university when by its very nature it excludes the mentally disabled?

  • Caroline Sisneros

    Question: You state: “Add in that elevator maintenance is scarce, as shown by how frequently permits are outdated, and people with disabilities have even fewer mobility options because of able-bodied students’ use of elevators and access ramps.” So they put up signs encouraging those who can use the stairs to do so and free up the elevators for those you need it and then you label the signs “ableist”? Please explain.

    • 1bendykat

      “A free workout just steps away” implies that if you don’t take the stairs, you’re lazy and should be ashamed of yourself. This sign, like many things in this world, are part of a near-constant subconscious attitude towards Disabled people that they are somehow less than abled people, which is ableist.

      There’s a difference between shaming people into taking the stairs and encouraging them to take the stairs by using clearly posted directions of where the stairs are so abled people are given a choice.

      Elevator maintenance and sidewalk paving is so horrible in some places on (or off) campus that the issue isn’t abled people existing on ramps and in elevators, but that it takes an extra long time to get to where you’re going if you have a disability because you have no alternative. Sometime you have to pass elevators up because they’re too crowded waiting for the car to come back to you is your only choice.
      Due to the fact that elevators can be so slow due to improper maintenance that this can take an extra 5 minutes each time.

      • Caroline Sisneros

        A thoughtful answer, which I appreciate, but if the purpose of the signs is to “shame” the abled to take into consideration the needs of the disabled I still don’t see a problem. Having graduated from UCLA and transported a disabled person around campus I am well aware of the problems with the campus. (And don’t even get me started on the issue of accessible bathrooms on campus.) Polite signage does not work, even “shaming” signage is of little value. Life, as a UCLA professor once said in class is a series of trade offs, instead of aiming the criticism at the signs which I’m sure most disabled know aren’t directed at them aim it at the poorly maintained facilities.

        • Joan Michelle Miller

          The problem is that the signs shame everyone and also that shame is a horrible motivation for anything anyways (which as psychology students, they should probably already know)

  • PC487

    As an “able” person, I am disturbed and offended by signs directing disabled persons to ramps and seating as this implies the ramps and seating may only be used by the disabled. In addition to disabled plackard abuse in and around campus for blocks in every direction, it’s just another micro aggression against the able bodied.

  • mike oxhard

    The real issue is that walking up one or two flights of stairs qualifies as a “workout” in America.