I spent the better part of my sophomore year at UCLA in bumper-to-bumper traffic. In fact, I’d probably say I spent more time in my car than I did in class.
As a commuter student, I was lucky that I had the means to afford a car. But almost as important as being able to afford a car, I could afford a UCLA parking pass.
Many students, commuters or otherwise, aren’t as lucky as me; even if they manage to qualify for a pass and have access to a car and gas, the cost of parking on campus can be prohibitive.
But for a particular group of students, parking isn’t just convenient – it’s essential. Commuter students with disabilities that limit their mobility often need access to disability parking in order to make their way around campus and get to class. Without parking, their access to education is severely restricted.
Despite this need, UCLA Parking Services does not currently have a system in place to help students with disabilities who may run into unexpected financial hardship pay for parking passes, said Lisa Koerbling, the office’s director.
The financial aid packages of students with disabilities do take into account transportation costs if they’re commuting. However, that aid wouldn’t be able to help in a midyear crisis – many students buy their passes on a quarterly basis, rather than annually – or for students who receive some aid to cover tuition and books but still don’t have roughly $800 to spare for a pass.
As such, it’s essential that a fund be established to help these students get access to campus in times of financial crisis or when their financial aid falls short.
Provided they’re able to pay, students in need typically don’t have trouble qualifying for permits.
In terms of access, the Office for Students with Disabilities is more than accommodating in helping mobility-limited commuter students at least qualify for disability parking passes, which allow them to drive from lot to lot in order to make getting around campus possible.
But, simply put, these passes are expensive. For students who live on the Hill and want to park, a quarterly pass is $279. Commuter students have it slightly better, only having to shell out $222 each quarter.
The OSD also does have a scholarship in place for generic disabilities-related needs, the Will Rogers Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship could be used to cover up to one quarter’s worth of parking costs, said Ed McCloskey, the office’s director. But the need remains for specific, immediate financial assistance for students with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 makes a fund like this even more pressing, because it “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations” in institutions that offer “postsecondary education.”
Although not having an emergency fund does not qualify as a violation of the act, not guaranteeing access to buildings where instruction is taking place by virtue of an inability to pay for close enough parking could be.
And if the university won’t, students should still work toward guaranteeing equal access for all through student government.
Next year’s Financial Supports Commissioner Heather Rosen ran on a platform of establishing a general transportation scholarship fund, which she is currently working with Parking Services to implement this year. It would, however, not just be limited to parking, but would include all forms of transportation, including vanpools and public transit passes.
Since the Undergraduate Students Association Council is obligated to represent all students, guaranteeing equal educational access by establishing this type of fund should be a priority. If establishing a general fund is well within reach, there is absolutely no reason why one cannot be made for a student population with a more pressing need.
We have a legal and moral obligation to make sure access to education is fair and equal, and that starts with being able to reach the classroom.