This week UCSB students will have the opportunity to take a walk in another’s shoes – or wheelchairs.
Today kicks off UCSB’s first Disability Awareness Week, organized through the Associated Students Commission on Disability Access (C.O.D.A.) and the A.S. Community Affairs Board (C.A.B.). The week’s activities are intended to spotlight not only the challenges caused by physical disabilities, but also the difficulties that students with developmental disabilities face on campus.
“I believe that the whole community suffers when one person or group among us suffers,” said Chris Hannah, a C.O.D.A. member and graduate student in the Education Dept. Chris Hannah. “We can improve our campus culture, especially in the way we respond and treat those with special needs.”
C.A.B. and C.O.D.A. will hold events today through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Arbor. Each day students will have an opportunity to experience what life is like for disabled students through a simulated disability, with a chance to win prizes. Today’s planned event will include a wheelchair relay.
Tuesday, students will be asked to read a short story with one twist: The exercise will simulate a cognitive disorder, such as dyslexia.
Tuesday night at 7 in Psychology 1824, C.A.B. and C.O.D.A. will present the documentary “Our House,” winner of the Nodance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, directed by UCSB alum Sevan Matossian. The film follows the experiences of three students living with developmental disorders in Isla Vista.
Wednesday, students can try simple navigation with a visual impairment and get a brief lesson on braille. Wednesday night at 7:30 in I.V. Theater 2, C.A.B. will hold a panel discussion about living and working with disabilities on campus. The panel will feature past and present students, faculty, staff and members of the community that will describe their experiences at UCSB.
Thursday, students can play a variation of Chubby Bunny in the Arbor. The week will end with a Friendship Dance in the UCen Hub at 7 p.m. KCSB will provide music, and there will be a raffle with prizes.
The events were organized under the supervision of sophomore political science major Alison Sprott through C.O.D.A., which serves as an advocacy and social group for students with disabilities at UCSB. In the past, C.O.D.A. has organized disability conferences, lobbying sessions with campus administrators for increased support for students with disabilities and social events to connect the disabled community on campus
The events are being held to inform the campus community about the difficulties disabled people face in day-to-day life on campus. The university is required by law to make all buildings accessible to disabled people, however, it can still be difficult to get around.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was intended to ensure civil rights protection to people with disabilities. The act defines a disability as any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such an individual.”
UC settled a lawsuit out of court in November last year in which five deaf students accused the Berkeley and Davis campuses of providing inadequate learning assistance services for the hearing-impaired, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The University agreed to pay $10,000 plus the cost of legal fees to each of the five plaintiffs but admitted no wrongdoing.
UCSB Geography Dept. researcher Jim Marston, an advocate for the rights of disabled people on campus, said the UCSB campus has problems with accessibility, including the lack of a wheelchair-accessible emergency exit from the lower level of the UCen.
“Every disability has its own problems,” Marston said. “The blind, wheelchair users and deaf people have problems gaining access to their education.”
The Disabled Students Program was established on campus to address the needs of disabled students. It offers learning assistance services, such as sign language interpreters or stenographers for the deaf during lectures, and note-taking services for the physically disabled.
“We assist the University in complying with federal and state legislation,” Disabled Students Program Director Diane Glenn said. “Our role is to coordinate the services and … also work to foster student independence and student self-advocacy.”