Editor, Daily Nexus:
I am writing this letter in support of the wonderful work started by Associated Students’ Mel Fabi and Bill Flores in founding of the Commission on Disability Access (CODA). It must be said that CODA is not the first organization of its kind, though it is the best-funded and supported, thanks to the tireless work and dedication of students like Mel and Bill. In 1995, I co-founded the Disability Awareness and Advocacy Coalition (DACC), which all too-quickly foundered, not from a lack of desperate and ignored need, but rather from a lack of administrative support. It is nice to know that the dream did not die permanently.
Imagine if a leg broken in a skiing accident landed you permanently in a wheelchair. The following is a description of some of the obstacles you would encounter in an average day. I am not simply another person spouting facts at you. I use a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. A typical day for me starts at 7 a.m. with my personal attendant knocking on the door. I am told that another worker has stopped working weekends and that, additionally, I have lost another Independent Provider. So, first on my call list is In-Home Supportive Services, followed by phone tag with the Dept. of Rehabilitation and the Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Institute (when I was sick with a cold I had to cancel four therapy sessions, and my funding for therapy will run out at the end of the month).
Later, I walk into class where the professor teases me about my lack of a commanding voice, which is cerebral palsy-related. Disrespectful of my personal space, the guy behind me taps out a drum solo on my back wheels. During a break, I realize I have to use the restroom and, in the same instant, that it is inaccessible. I miss the bus by two minutes because it leaves early, and the next driver blares over the radio, “Gimme a break … I had to load a wheelchair.” Downtown, there is a curb cut on one side of the street but not the other, which prevents me from completing my errands. At least 10 people have stared at me long enough to take a mental close-up, three of whom feel bold enough to ask what’s wrong with me. Another passerby promotes a faith healer, and yet another tells me all about his grandmother who once used a wheelchair for two months. I give up and go home, tired of being the Spectacle of Santa Barbara. At home, I have yards of homework to do and calls to return. In the late evening hours, my life finally begins to resemble that of a “normal” student.
Please realize that disabled students need all the support and assistance we can muster from anyone and everyone. There is an enormous amount of power and voice in the student body. Please know that none of us involved with CODA are pursuing lofty goals; we ask only for recognition as a viable student-population in need of accessible restrooms and adequate fire escapes. Our attendance at UCSB presents enough challenges as it is, please don’t make the fight any harder than it has to be.
JUSTINE A. BLEVINS