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Add in that elevator maintenance is scarce, as shown by how frequently permits are outdated, and people with disabilities have even fewer mobility options because of able-bodied students’ use of elevators and access ramps.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