UC Santa Barbara Associated Students’ Commission on Disability Equity announced plans to open a Disability Cultural Center on the third floor of the University Center via an Instagram post on Jan. 18. 

The new center is opening on the third floor of the University Center. Nexus File Photo

The Disability Cultural Center (DCC) is estimated to open to the public by the end of winter quarter, with larger structural changes anticipated to take two to five years to be completed. 

The post followed a Senate bill unanimously passed during a Jan. 17 Associated Students (A.S.) Senate meeting that incorporated the DCC into the organization. The Senate bill was co-authored by second-year history of public policy and law major Amelia Rowe and second-year political science major MingJun Zha. 

“I was inspired by [C.O.D.E. External Affairs Coordinator Yao Yao] Xiao’s drive and initiative in addressing the unique struggles disabled students face on campus,” Rowe said in an email statement to the Nexus. 

The DCC has been in development for seven years and was finally presented to Senate this quarter following ongoing conversations on the importance of having this space open for students with disabilities, according to Xiao. 

The space was originally proposed to be built in the old A.S. Bike Shop — which relocated next to the Student Affairs and Administrative Services Building this past summer — but the idea was rejected as another organization planned to relocate there. 

C.O.D.E. plans to use the majority of the funding received from Senate to renovate the space and ensure its functionality and usability. 

The center will feature artwork sponsored by student artists with disabilities hung up on its walls, alongside a large meeting room similar to the MultiCultural Center. The space will also be used for office hours with C.O.D.E. board members, as well as an additional space for Senators to hold meetings as well. 

Ensuring that the space was accessible with necessary equipment for all students with disabilities was a major block in the planning process, Xiao said. 

The DCC is currently only accessible via elevator and stairs, leaving few exit route options for students with physical disabilities in the event of a fire. 

“I wanted to install a lift next to the window of the third floor that would bring a student with a wheelchair down on the outside of the building in case of a fire,” Xiao said. “I looked into it, and unfortunately that would require a lot of structural change into the actual building itself.” 

Thus, Xiao thought of a temporary solution to construct ramps down the stairs as emergency equipment. However, they said such an endeavor would involve additional staff training to ensure effective wheelchair accessibility of the ramps. 

“I want the cultural center to be accessible — that’s the most important part,” Xiao said. “Unfortunately, a lot of that isn’t within my power because [the building] is owned by the school itself.” 

Xiao emphasized the difficulties of getting the DCC off the ground, saying the lengthy process speaks to how well students with disabilities are considered in campus conversation. 

“I honestly am hoping that with the incorporation of the DCC, people and Senators will start thinking about our perspectives, putting it into consideration more and more, and maybe even coming to the space to educate themselves.”

Above all, Xiao said the DCC will serve as a space for inclusivity, disability awareness and representation. They envision the space will welcome students with disabilities who may have grievances with issues of campus accessibility and visibility. 

“Especially because a lot of students struggle with the furniture that some of these classrooms have, I want these students to go into this space … and have support services,” Xiao said. 

The DCC will also hold space for campus advocacy for students with disabilities and ensure that the university continues to follow policies that accommodate community members with access needs. 

“A lot of it has to do with representing students, advocating for them and to give them a space where they could ensure that administration is following the policies that are both inclusive and accessible,” Xiao said. “Maybe having a physical space could also allow able-bodied students to understand where we’re coming from.” 

Xiao also emphasized the DCC creating a physical space for C.O.D.E. to host events of its own without having to reserve other spaces on campus. 

“We don’t have to ask the numerous other campus organizations to have space,” she said. “We can have events ourselves, people will know where to go because [the UCen] is so central to campus, and if they feel overstimulated [in the room], they can go down and get some food.” 

Xiao thanked her predecessors in bringing this project to this point in the planning process.

“This is a collective effort — this was at least eight years of people thinking about it to the point where it actually becomes acknowledged,” they said. 

A version of this article appeared on p.1 of the Jan. 25, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.

CORRECTION [2/6/2024 9:17 p.m.]: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the third floor of the University Center was an unused storage space. This has since been redacted to reflect that change. 

Print

Asumi Shuda
Asumi Shuda (they/them) is the Co Lead News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Shuda was the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2022-23 school year and the 2021-22 school year and an Assistant News Editor during the 2020-21 school year. They can be reached at asumishuda@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com.