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Disabled Students’ Program: An illusion

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FIFI BERMAN | FILE

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JULY 26, 2022

“Hi, this is the 10th voicemail I have left for your office. I am looking to join the Disabled Students’ Program. All of my paperwork verifying the conditions that I need support for has been submitted for more than a month now, and I’d like to speak to someone about getting help. Call me back as soon as possible please. Thank you.”

During my first year at UC Berkeley, this became a routine. I scheduled time for myself between classes to campaign the Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, for the accommodations it claims to make accessible to all disabled students.

By the time I got a meeting with an advisor from DSP to discuss accommodations — through the advocacy of a College of Letters and Sciences academic advisor — it was February of my second semester. I had navigated my first two rounds of enrollment, my first semester of classes and my first round of finals at UC Berkeley, all sans accommodations. 

Undoubtedly I had a leg up, one that some of my peers shared — with little help in high school, we had become accustomed to a lack of extra time on tests, unextended due dates and a lack of additional resources. 

But, what about the students who have not had this practice, those who had expected to receive the accommodations they had in the past? 

What about the students who began their careers at UC Berkeley with confidence in the support DSP claims to offer, only to be faced with the task of navigating unanswered emails and ignored voicemails, and petitioning for the accommodations they deserve? How can we receive help without a response? 

While many disabled students seem to have given up on the idea of obtaining accommodations altogether — discouraged by the red tape and difficult process of self-advocating — the others lucky enough to obtain their necessary accommodations are left with a rather disappointing lack of support.

Yes, the Disabled Students’ Program supplies impersonal assistance, such as the coveted early enrollment period, but what actual support does it offer for disabled students? This question should come as no surprise after, only a few years ago, UC Berkeley was exposed for violating the American Disabilities Act by the U.S. Department of Justice

Still today, the Berkeley Disabled Students, or BDS, organization criticizes the support offered by DSP, citing its failure to provide timely and accessible accommodations to the student body and failure to maintain promised services mandated by both the TRIO grant and a contract with the Department of Rehabilitation, as well as other shortcomings, which affect a disabled student’s ability to be successful at UC Berkeley. 

BDS alleges that “DSP has become adversarial to disabled students, rather than a safe source of support. Many students have reported to BDS feelings of being devalued, dehumanized, humiliated, retaliated against, and our disabilities impacted in harmful ways due to discrimination by DSP, faculty, and staff of U.C. Berkeley.”

As UC Berkeley continues to see an increase in students enrolled in the Disabled Students’ Program, DSP must change and provide genuine support for the ever-growing population of disabled UC Berkeley students it claims to serve but currently fails to adequately. There must be change to address the lower graduation rates among disabled students across UC campuses, UC Berkeley included.

BDS calls for dramatic change in the Disabled Students’ Program, centering around making disability a priority on the UC Berkeley campus through the expansion of budget and services within DSP. 

Additionally, with the need for a larger staff (and more space to accommodate that staff) to ensure accommodations and services are provided by the Disabled Students’ Program, many students fall through the cracks and fail to obtain the accommodations they deserve through DSP. 

The BDS calls for accountability for the treatment of students enrolled in the Disabled Students’ Program as well, demanding that “DSP refocus on providing services that disabled students need to be successful, rather than treating students as beggars asking for handouts or cheaters trying to game the system.”

Because of the Disabled Students’ Program’s alleged failure to adequately advocate for disabled students on UC Berkeley’s campus, we must support organizations that will. BDS is a group of students with disabilities at UC Berkeley, community members and allies who are committed to addressing the decades-long disability discrimination culture on the UC Berkeley campus. 

The UC Berkeley ASUC Disabled Students Commission also addresses campuswide disability issues. In addition to having its own advocacy campaigns, it also serves to uplift the work of intersectional student groups on campus. The Student Coalition for Disability Rights at UC Berkeley advocates for disability rights on campus, and works to ensure that students with disabilities have equitable access to the school’s academics, resources and programs. 

While the university provides a service for complaint resolution regarding DSP, action must follow. By making accommodations accessible and offering better support to disabled students, DSP can help mitigate the discrimination faced by a significant portion of the UC Berkeley student body.

Disabled students are just as worthy of success at Berkeley as their nondisabled peers, and it is time that UC Berkeley acknowledges the harm the Disabled Students’ Program’s failure to properly support disabled students causes, and act accordingly. 

Paloma Mertel is a student at UC Berkeley.
LAST UPDATED

JULY 26, 2022


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