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UC Berkeley must meet basic needs of its disabled students

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SEPTEMBER 21, 2018

When Nancy Barker, a deaf visiting student researcher, came to UC Berkeley, she repeatedly requested American Sign Language interpreters from the campus’s Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP. Now, she’s filing a lawsuit against the campus for allegedly failing to provide these services.

Barker’s case does not stand alone. It’s part of a larger trend of the campus’s failure to meet the basic needs of its disabled students. And the campus’s feeble bureaucratic excuses, including a lack of state funding, just aren’t cutting it.

DSP is the leading resource for thousands of disabled students on campus. But as of February 2018, the program was staffed by only 34 people, who handle all academic accommodations, mobility consultations and requests for sign language interpretations. How can the program be expected to sufficiently serve its students when it is so severely understaffed?

UC Berkeley has time and again demonstrated that its disabled students are an afterthought rather than a priority. When a federal investigation concluded in March 2017 that the campus’s online educational content didn’t meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, the campus chose to remove the videos rather than spend money on captioning them. In August 2017, the campus reopened Wheeler Hall without a single ADA-compliant elevator. And in fall 2017, classrooms in the new Connie and Kevin Chou Hall were labelled with fake Braille.

In each of these cases, UC Berkeley had an excuse for the inexcusable. There were delays in construction. Funding takes time to disburse. There was miscommunication with the students. But even when the campus does meet ADA guidelines, it is only fulfilling the bare minimum. Many parts of the campus, while technically ADA-accessible, can still be challenging for some disabled students to navigate. ADA guidelines are not the gold standard — they’re the rule. The campus should be going above and beyond rather than simply checking a box.

The campus has claimed that its past decisions not to improve accessibility have been based on a general lack of funding and considerations of the current budget climate. But these services are not frivolous investments — they’re basic needs for many students. And the campus must find a way to ensure that each and every one of its students has the resources they need to learn in this community.

UC Berkeley prides itself on being a progressive school — it likes to market itself as the home of the disability rights movement. But recently, the campus has failed to uphold that legacy. It’s time for the campus to remember its roots. Disabled students must be able to access their education — but on top of that, they deserve to feel welcomed and valued in this community.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2018