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UCLA working group to focus on improving campus accessibility

Janss Steps is pictured. UCLA established a working group April 4 that will address the accessibility for individuals with disabilities. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Emily Rusting

April 27, 2023 11:48 p.m.

Administrators announced April 4 that UCLA established a new working group intended to make the campus more physically accessible for individuals with disabilities.

The working group will collaborate with a UC-wide advisory board to identify accessibility inequities, develop research-based improvement plans and monitor progress on existing initiatives, according to the announcement. The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion added in an emailed statement that the group will prioritize work on paths, buildings, classrooms and emergency exit routes.

UCLA’s Americans with Disabilities Act/Section 504 compliance officer Yonit Kovnator will co-chair the group, but the size of the group and its remaining members are yet to be unannounced.

The working group is a step in the right direction, given the extensive accessibility inequities disabled students face on campus, said Eliana Sisman, a third-year sociology student and member of the Disabled Student Union.

Extensive stairs and inaccessible walkways force students who face mobility difficulties to go out of their way to get to campus, added Christopher Ikonomou, a leader of the DSU and a fourth-year communication and disability studies student.

“(UCLA should) have ramps and smooth glide paths, … so people can just go around and roll around in their wheelchairs or go places with canes,” Sisman added.

Ikonomou also said that he would like to see the working group address the lack of elevators on campus and the Hill while ensuring existing elevators are properly and regularly inspected for safety. He added that he noticed many elevators on the Hill displaying inspection notices that are years expired.

Sisman also said Bruin Access, UCLA’s free shuttle program for students with physical accessibility difficulties, is not a reliable resource for disabled students.

Ikonomou added that he believed reforming the shuttle service, which often arrives at students’ destinations late even if they order a ride an hour in advance, should be a major priority for the working group.

“The Bruin Access van could be an amazing accessibility service if it was properly funded and the drivers were properly trained,” he said.

Ikonomou also said he would like to see the working group prioritize reducing discriminatory attitudes toward disabled students on campus, which can exacerbate the existing challenges students with mobility difficulties face.

Both Sisman and Ikonomou said they were skeptical about the new working group’s ability to address such accessibility concerns.

Campus is inaccessible by design, so implementing projects to increase accessibility would likely require extensive funding, Ikonomou said. He added he was doubtful that students and administrators would be enthusiastic about altering historically inaccessible campus landmarks and buildings.

Sisman said she was concerned the working group would be too limited in its efforts to address physical accessibility inequities. She added that UCLA should also be committed to providing resources such as captions, Braille plaques and sign language interpreters across campus.

Sisman also said she believes the group should include or solicit feedback from disabled individuals’ experiences navigating UCLA’s inaccessible campus to work effectively toward its goals.

“Disabled people – students, faculty, staff, workers – should be the majority of this working group,” she said.

Ikonomou added that he believed consulting disabled individuals should be a focus for the group since it would help identify the most pressing accessibility concerns. He also said he felt the working group should include disability studies faculty and a third-party disability attorney to offer additional insight on meeting the needs of disabled students.

Both Ikonomou and Sisman said that despite their skepticism, they were optimistic about the group’s potential to address accessibility difficulties through research, collaboration with members of the disabled community and a commitment to implementation.

“It could be an effective strategy if the community is actually involved and if they’re (UCLA) committed to spending a lot of money and making structural changes to the campuses,” Ikonomou said.

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