Imagine being disabled at UCSB. If you arrive by bus there are no tactile markers to direct you to a sidewalk. If you go too far to the right there is a busy bicycle circle, veer too far left and you’re trapped in a maze of parked bicycles. Once on the sidewalk, you’re confronted by bicycles, skaters and motorized vehicles. You forge ahead, trying desperately to get to class on time so you don’t have to stumble over all the packs, skateboards and drinks in the aisles. How are you going to find the building your class is in? None of the buildings have raised letter or braille signage. You must count your steps, recall every turn and every door you pass or enter and pray you are never distracted. Disabled Students Program doesn’t send out prior notifications of room changes or class cancellations. You will wait in an empty classroom, or at the door, until someone reads the posted notice to you. You can enter a class knowing your professor should have received a request to read a notice asking someone to take notes for you, but the notices don’t always arrive and busy professors don’t always remember to read them so you don’t get note takers or readers for several weeks.
Many people think the flat terrain of our campus would be easy to navigate in a wheelchair, but they are mistaken. There is no means of cutting through the center of campus because the grade in front of the UCen is too steep, so you must take longer routes and always allot additional time to get to class. Bicycles are chained in hallways, doorways and to wheelchair ramps. Disabled students don’t receive prior notice when elevators are out of service and alternate routes are difficult and time consuming. Things we take for granted, like food condiments and telephones, are seldom at an accessible level. If you have a mobility impairment you must deal with all of these things, get to class on time and not let your frustration distract you from your work.
Having a learning disability is isolating, frustrating and, at UCSB, it is often humiliating. You begin each quarter knowing a public announcement will be made that you have a disability and need students to “volunteer” or receive a small wage to assist you. You sit, watching the professor write copious notes and show overhead projections that you cannot read. You begin each quarter behind in your work, constantly trying to catch up and deal with the exhaustion that often accompanies physical and cognitive disabilities.
Can you imagine being deaf and only getting interpreters for half of your classes? You don’t always receive prior notice that an interpreter won’t be available. You go to class alone, copy all the written material and hope the professor or another student will provide you with notes of the lecture you cannot hear.
I am a blind graduate student at UCSB and many of these challenges are simply a part of my life. I have been at UCSB since 1998 and many disabled students and faculty members have confided the problems they face on this campus to me. Their heartbreaking stories anger and frustrate me because I cannot help them; I have not been able to change things. Disabled students, staff and faculty members now have a chance to be heard by people who can change things – our administration. UCSB faculty and the administration are currently conducting a survey regarding disability issues on our campus. Students, staff and faculty members who have disabilities or who have an interest in disability issues are invited to respond. If you, a family member or a friend, have an interest in making UCSB more accessible, please respond at http://research.survey.ucsb.edu/disability. Please respond as soon as possible and let UCSB disabled students know they are not alone in their efforts to receive an equal education on a safe campus.
Jeane Adamson is a UCSB graduate student.