Before you read any further, you should know a bit about me. My name is Rob; I’m a sophomore here at TU. I am a past member of many campus organizations and am currently focused on my non-profit activities outside of classes.
I have cerebral palsy, a physical disability that limits my mobility. I’ve been a disability rights advocate my whole life—and this community should know why our campus is a great place to join the disability rights fight.
When I used to sit in the SA Senate Chambers every Tuesday night, I had visions of Bob Dole and Tom Harkin working to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—people with different perspectives working together for the greater good.
When the ADA was passed in 1990, Dole was the Republican Senate Minority Leader from Kansas, a well-respected statesman and brilliant legal mind. Harkin was only a freshman Senator, but the Iowa Democrat was going to make waves early on in a celebrated Senate career that would end a quarter-century later.
Dole and Harkin didn’t know it then, but their work in bringing the two parties together to pass this monumental bill would leave them heralded by many forever. On a much less glorious level, my near two-year tenure in the Student Senate was marked by multiple strides and improvements for students, faculty members, visitors, parents and others with disabilities who might grace our campus.
The SA Senate and the individuals who fill it lived up to my expectations and beyond. It was because of Student Association that we had wheelchair basketball programming here, because of Student Association that we had a “Day in the Life of A Person with A Disability” Luncheon, and because of Student Association that life for people with disabilities is even tolerable on this campus.
I wish I believed that our administration was as passionate about making TU a disability-friendly place as its students are. I don’t believe that. I never have.
I introduced a piece of legislation called “A Few Words on Accessibility” earlier this semester when I was still in the Senate. By the time you read this article, the resolution, approved by the Senate, will have swept across the desks of numerous TU administrators, along with the five-page Accessibility Report, which highlights a plethora of accessibility issues on our campus. And it doesn’t cover everything.
When the Senate considered my report and resolution, a fellow Senator asked me to talk about how TU “ranks” on the disability-friendly spectrum. I explained that TU does a nice job of providing academic accommodations, but the physical accessibility of our campus leaves much to be desired.
This is a common theme among private universities, since public universities receive federal dollars to continually renovate along with more money for programming. As peer campuses begin to renovate buildings, their physical accessibility has and will continue to outdo TU until changes are made. But this column is about Improving TU and shouldn’t simply be filled with my gripes. So, some calls to action:
Fellow Students: Please learn about the issues surrounding disability rights. Gain perspective if you don’t have it already, and please don’t shy away from a good fight on behalf of the disability rights movement.
Know how to identify accessibility issues and how to report them. Test yourself to learn when to offer help—some of us don’t have the ability to ask, and some of us are too proud to do so. Include us. Make us a part of your Friday night plans, and treat us as you would anyone else. If you don’t notice the disability, it’s likely we won’t either—nor will anyone else.
Faculty and Administrators: Please forgive my long list of suggestions here. And please heed these suggestions as best you can—it will help more people than you realize.
First, enact the suggestions in “A Few Words on Accessibility.” If you don’t know what they are, let me know. I’ll pass it along and make you part of the solution. Next, fix as many of the problems identified in my Accessibility Report as possible.
With July 26 being the 25th Anniversary of the hallmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, now would be a great time to launch a disability-centered fundraising effort, and it would be a great show of commitment to a different kind of diversity from the TU Community. Also, please work with CSAS to increase its budget for disability services and improve its Testing Center. I know money is tight, but the fine folks over there do a lot with very little.
And I’m not done yet—this is a big one. Don’t “out” anyone’s disability. I realize some are obvious, like mine, but you all are given privileged information when it comes to accommodations letters. Please don’t announce the need for a notetaker in class or post it on Harvey. Find a more private way to approach a student about helping out a classmate with notes.
And please, know how to identify accessibility issues and how to report them. If you don’t, perhaps disability awareness training should be launched.
All Together Now: Volunteer at The CENTER for Individuals with Physical Challenges. It will change your perspective. To learn more, visit http://www.tulsacenter.org or head on down to 815 S. Utica Ave. Then, when you return to TU, do something on campus for disability awareness. Remind the city that differences among us exist, and celebrate the uniqueness of everyone’s abilities.
I hope these steps will produce some fruitful results for everyone. If you have any questions or you need some help working things through, call me, email me, or find me on my scooter—I’m a bit hard to miss.