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Students express discontent with UCLA’s provision of accessibility amid encampment

A line of orange and yellow cones in Portola Plaza is pictured. Students alleged that these cones, which blocked pathways Thursday, restricted access to campus for students with disabilities. (Megan Cai/Photo editor)

By Matthew Royer

April 26, 2024 7:01 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Ricardo Vazquez's name.

This post was updated April 29 at 7:27 a.m.

Students expressed concern that UCLA has not provided proper accessibility for students with disabilities, including alleged ADA violations, on campus after a pro-Palestine encampment began in Dickson Plaza.

After students and community members established an encampment in Dickson Plaza on Thursday with dozens of tents and nearly 300 students at its peak, the university restricted access to the area surrounding Royce Hall and Powell Library.

[Related Link: UCLA community organizes encampment in response to national call for escalation]

Restrictions included limited access to Portola Plaza by car, cancellation of BruinAccess reservations, security blocking ramps to buildings and the blocking of permitted handicap parking by parking enforcement, affected students said.

Maya Siegel, a third-year education and social transformation student, said she has an accommodation and a permit to use the handicap parking in Portola Plaza, which is closest to her classes. She said when she arrived to park her car in the afternoon around 1:40 p.m. Thursday, parking enforcement turned her away.

By the time UCLA Transportation and UCPD could find a solution to help Siegel – which required multiple phone conversations, presenting her BruinCard, parking permit and handicap placard, and allegedly redirecting her to drive the wrong direction of traffic toward Lu Valle Commons to park – she said she had already missed the first 25 minutes of her class.

She added that her frustration amplified when UCLA allowed news vans to park where she usually would near her classes in Kaplan Hall.

“The encampment is fairly far back, and so I am unclear why they are blocking so much of the road, because they are not close to the road at all,” Siegel said. “In my opinion, this blockade, this frustration with ADA violations, is not necessarily on the encampment itself, it’s more so on how UCLA PD and Transportation are choosing to clear the area.”

Siegel said she also struggled with orange cones blocking pathways and building entrances, which meant she had to move the cones while using her walking cane. She added that the cones would be impossible to move if using a wheelchair or a similar accessibility aid.

Siegel was not the only student who had trouble getting to campus Thursday.

Another student, who was granted anonymity because they did not feel safe disclosing their disability, said they had scheduled a BruinAccess ride a day in advance, but when they began to leave, their ride was abruptly canceled Thursday.

They added that this led them to request a Lyft to get to campus, but that even once they arrived, their Lyft was denied access to Portola Plaza, which required them to walk further to class.

They said while the walk was doable for them, it may not be for other students with disabilities on campus.

“I would just hope that campus security, campus police and safety people are aware of people with CAE accommodations and disabilities,” they said. “That way, people aren’t put in the position to find ways to get around or deal with having to defend their disabilities to a person they shouldn’t have to defend their disabilities to.”

Salih Can Açiksöz, an associate professor of anthropology and interdisciplinary faculty of disability studies, said in an emailed statement that it is not the protests themselves but rather the securitization of campus that has made accessibility for students challenging.

Açiksöz added that alleged ADA violations have made it difficult for students to navigate the campus, which can already be challenging. He said it would be a mistake to view the encampment and protests as opposed to the interests of people with disabilities.

“Both the BLM and pro-Palestinian protests are movements for disability justice. In the U.S., police violence disproportionately targets Black people with disabilities, and Israel’s assault on Gaza produces disability on a mass scale,” Açiksöz said in the statement.

Grace Overman, a first-year disability studies and history student, said she was denied access to the ADA ramp to Haines Hall by UCLA security. She said even after she explained her situation to multiple security officers, she was still told to either take the stairs or circle around to the building’s back ADA ramp – which she said is less accessible, as she has fallen on it multiple times.

She added that security eventually let her through the front ramp, but only after a news camera crew stood near her. Overman said she believes that incident pressured security to let her use the ramp.

When she went to report the accessibility issue, she alleged that the forum to report her complaint was down, which she believes exemplifies how UCLA treats its disabled students.

“The university needs to figure out a way to allow for the protests to continue while also making room for accessibility,” Overman said. “BruinAccess rides should not be canceled, students should be able to get up there and handicap parking should never be blocked, and students should be able to use the ramps.”

In a request for comment, Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that the university is committed to equity, accessibility and inclusivity in education and a supportive learning environment. He added that UCLA is working to remedy issues for students, including monitoring and allowing entry to vehicles needing ADA access and positioning safety personnel to allow access to ADA ramps.

“The demonstration in Royce Quad unfolded quickly and we apologize for any impact this may have had on any of our students’ ability to navigate their academic and campus responsibilities,” he said in the statement.

Students are encouraged to speak directly to their faculty if impeded by encampment, Vazquez said. He added that students can also reach out to the Dean of Students if they need support working with faculty, and they can also seek accessibility-related accommodations and resources by contacting the Center for Accessible Education.

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Matthew Royer | Alumnus
Royer joined the Bruin and the News section as a first-year transfer student in 2022 and contributed until he graduated in 2024. He was the 2023-2024 national news and higher education editor and the 2022-2023 city and crime (metro) editor. He was also a Sports staff writer on the men’s soccer and softball beats and was Copy staff. He studied political science and minored in labor studies.
Royer joined the Bruin and the News section as a first-year transfer student in 2022 and contributed until he graduated in 2024. He was the 2023-2024 national news and higher education editor and the 2022-2023 city and crime (metro) editor. He was also a Sports staff writer on the men’s soccer and softball beats and was Copy staff. He studied political science and minored in labor studies.
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