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Opinion: UCLA has no excuse for ignoring disabled students’ accessibility demands

Students with disabilities are forced to traverse UCLA’s campus full of staircases, such as this one pictured. UCLA should provide greater accessibility for such students. (Megan Cai/Assistant Photo editor)

By Diego Rivera

Sept. 16, 2022 10:27 a.m.

I had just finished a four-hourlong lab course for the day and my legs were exhausted. There was no way I was dragging my feet uphill to get back to my dorm – so I took the elevator next to the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

What an awful decision. The elevator broke down, and my desperate attempts in clicking the emergency button warranted no response until the doors magically opened 15 minutes later. After leaving the elevator, I couldn’t help but be grateful that I wasn’t stuck inside any longer.

Unfortunately, inconvenient accommodations like this are too familiar of an experience for many disabled Bruins. While able-bodied people like me need to use these resources less frequently, students with disabilities are presented with a much greater burden when our campus treats accessibility as an afterthought.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, students in the Disabled Student Union have been left feeling frustrated and ignored as UCLA refuses to cooperate to meet their needs. The accommodations they are reasonably asking for are as diverse as the students who attend UCLA – ranging from making the physical campus more accessible to continuing hybrid learning and providing recorded lectures.

With this wide range of needs, UCLA should strive to adamantly support its student body by listening to disabled students’ voices and investing more resources in structures such as the Center for Accessible Education. It’s only reasonable to accommodate those who need additional support so that they can perform to their highest ability alongside their peers.

With its steep hills and staircases, UCLA’s campus is known for being largely inaccessible to people with mobility impairments. When both people with disabilities and their allies raise awareness about how physically demanding it is to navigate campus, it only makes sense for the university to invest in services that make movement across campus easier for everyone.

According to an emailed statement from UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk, the university provides appropriate and reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities through the CAE. However, BruinAccess, a paratransit service van for qualified students, has suspended its scheduled services until further notice. Now, those who use this accommodation to commute to school can only do so on demand.

Even with the additional service of SafeRide, another transportation option that serves all students, UCLA should make greater efforts to help students with disabilities get around more easily.

“The thing with the (BruinAccess) service is since it’s on demand, similar to Uber, the time that they show up is a surprise,” said Christopher Ikonomou, a fourth-year communication student. “The fact that it’s not flexible for disabled students means we’re forced to traverse this really inaccessible campus.”

With some classes requiring in-person attendance and exams starting at strict times, relying on BruinAccess to get around punctually is simply not an option. It’s unacceptable for UCLA to leave students with disabilities to fend for themselves, especially when the administration has proven its ability to accommodate in other areas. With recorded lectures, indoor mask mandates and weekly COVID-19 testing requirements throughout the pandemic, the university obviously has the ability to serve its disabled population.

Moving forward, the administration must continue enforcing these policies and invest in preexisting programs that have the potential to accommodate the specific needs of disabled students, such as BruinAccess and the CAE. Budget increases for these programs could lead to an improvement in the quality of CAE services as well as increase retention rates for employees.

“(The CAE should not) require people to go through all these hoops to beg (and) prove that they’re disabled and then justify why they need support for said disability,” Ikonomou said.

Ikonomou added that in addition to reworking the CAE, UCLA should also train all faculty on universal design and make fundamental aspects of university courses more accessible. Some ways to increase accessibility include providing peer notetakers and remote access to class resources.

Undoubtedly, these changes would be costly, especially if the university were to accommodate the specific requests of every disabled Bruin. However, the needs of disabled individuals as students, future professionals and human beings far outweigh the economic sacrifices that come with proper accommodations.

Profit should never be prioritized over people no matter what.

“It would be great if people could just care about other people,” said Katie Bogue, a third-year biochemistry student.

Bogue added that students with disabilities are not thought of as actual students but as resource hogs. Not only are these attitudes she describes toward disabled people discriminatory, but they also fail to recognize that increasing accessibility for students with disabilities increases accessibility for everyone else.

Accounting for universal design also benefits able-bodied students, whether they can’t make it to class or if they want to access information outside the physical classroom.

“What the evidence really suggests is that when you provide universal access, everyone benefits, things become more equitable and more people thrive,” Bogue said. “So if you don’t care about disabled people, at least care about yourself.”

It is UCLA’s duty to serve the demands of disabled students as problems from the beginning of the pandemic continue into this school year. It is past time for UCLA to start properly accommodating the needs of the disabled community.

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Diego Rivera
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