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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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From the Daily: Enabling campus

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 31, 2014

Last year, nearly 5 percent of students at the University were registered as having a disability with the Services for Students with Disabilities. Michigan ranks second-highest in SSD registered students among Big Ten schools. Students and staff came together Wednesday to spread disabilities awareness at speakABLE, an event presented by the SSD Senior Advisory Board. The event featured testimonials from disabled students on campus who praised the University’s efforts and called for change in University policy and atmosphere. Though the University has taken positive measures to accommodate students with disabilities, additional resources and information should be provided to reach equality for these students.

SpeakABLE was part of a series of events for SSD’s 40th anniversary. The event featured a panel of students who shared personal stories regarding disability at the University. One student addressed the lack of clear emergency evacuation procedures for physically disabled students in residence halls, particularly calling attention to “deplorable” protocols during a fire drill. Other topics of discussion centered on the challenge deaf students face during large lecture events and the “otherness” of disabled individuals in the campus community.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the University is required to provide reasonable public accommodations, and seems to work hard to do so. However, emergency evacuation procedures must also be updated to better address the needs of disabled students. Clear plans should be set for evacuating disabled students from residence halls in the case of an emergency. These should be included in an updated version of the Office of Institutional Equity’s Emergency Evacuation for Persons on Campus with Disabilities protocol.

Though SSD provides positive aid for disabled students, the University should increase awareness and accessibility of this resource. To inform all new students of its available programming and services, and raise awareness about disability on campus in general, the SSD office should be included in orientation tours. It should further increase transparency by clarifying the registration process. Prescheduling for accommodation at student events, like mass meetings and speaker events, another concern raised at the panel, should be simplified. Further, the existence of any and all resources should be clarified and publicized by the University so students can utilize them.

To generate a comprehensive understanding of disabilities across campus, the University should create a disabilities studies concentration. At the very least, the University should offer more relevant classes pertaining to historical treatment, political initiatives and social power dynamics of physical and mental ability in society and academia. While the University offers courses on many different groups, it lacks undergraduate academic curricula in disabilities studies. Such a program has been proposed in the past and should be implemented to fully represent diverse groups in University coursework. This program would create greater acceptance of disabilities, bridging the gap between able-bodied and disabled individuals on campus.

While the University has created positive resources to accommodate disabled students, certain changes should be implemented to help those who could benefit from them. Increased information about SSD registration process and resources would aid all disabled students, and a disabilities studies program would promote greater acceptance. Every individual at the University should have an equal opportunity to succeed, and disabled students are no exception.