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March 05, 2008 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-03-05

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new education in access
While the University is in the midst of a lawsuit over the wheelchair accessibility of Michigan Stadium, disability
services on campus have been generally diligent in addressing the needs of students with disabilities. And while the
multi-faceted issue of disability access is too individual for uniform, campus-wide solutions, University programs are
still far ahead of students in making campus inclusive.

hen Sam Goodin, the director of
the Office of Services for Students
with Disabilities, recently looked
into making a video about spinal
cord injuries to educate hospital employees,
he offered students a pretty lucrative deal. In
exchange for being in a focus group, students
were offered $20 an hour and a chance to win
an iPod.
"We got nobody," Goodin said. "That happens
all the time."
But recently, concerns for the rights of peo-
ple with disabilities spurred loud chastisement
of the University for its lawsuit defending the
Michigan Stadium construction against alle-
gations that it has ignored the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990.
ADA is now a household acronym in the Uni-
versity's already abbreviation-saturated jargon.
And for the University community, it is a mixed
blessing. Despite the angry backlash against
administrators, the lawsuit has had a noticeably
positive effect. It has raised an unprecedented
amount of awareness on campus about disability
For an often-overlooked facet of diversity,
awareness offers the potential spark that could
help unite the University, faculty, alumni and
students in making this campus a more inclusive
and welcoming place for people with disabilities
of all kinds.
This is a goal that transcends minimum legal
requirements, since ADA guidelines requiring
ramps don't assure convenient, or easily usable
ramps. And providing access to education at the
University doesn't stop at entering the building
- class lectures and PowerPoint presentations
are inaccessible to the deaf and blind.
Meeting this challenge is a task riddled with
complexity. As a large, old and constantly chang-
ing campus, integrated with the city of Ann
Arbor and diverse in its duties as an employer
and educator, the University's role in meeting
the needs of people with disabilities is multi-
faceted. Likewise, there are individual and
collective, as well as short-term and long-term
responsibilities that the University must meet.
The bad press the University has gotten from
the stadium controversy makes it seem callous
towards people with disabilities. But in reality,
it has some exceptional programs staffed with
committed individuals who have managed a
Herculean task to the best of their ability. While

not always perfect, the University is able to offer
a wide variety of services that meet its legal obli-
gations and, more importantly, improve the lives
of the people receiving the services.
But to reach the goal of creating an inclusive
campus, that might not be enough.
All the programs in the world wouldn't turn
a campus with unwelcoming people into a wel-
coming place. To do that will take a commitment
from everyone on campus.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
defines disability as: "(A) a physical or mental
impairment thatsubstantially limits one or more
of the major life activities of such individual; (B)
a record of such an impairment; or (C) being
regarded as having such an impairment."
More broadly, a disability can mean-one of
many types of impairments, including the phys-
ical, sensory, psychiatric, cognitive and health-
related. Some, like physical disabilities that
require special equipment such as wheelchairs
and sensory disabilities like blindness, are con-
spicuous. Others, like bipolar disorder, learning
disabilities or health disabilities like diabetes,
are usually hidden.
Sometimes faced with cultural stereotypes
of inferiority, misconceptions about what it
means to be a person with a disability and alack
of sensitivity, the environment for people with
disabilities is frequently challenging. It is an
environment that doesn't recognize that people
with disabilities are people first, or is just oblivi-
ous to it.
"We are in a society that has a difficult time
placing value - people value - on people with
disabilities," said Jack Bernard, the chair of the
University of Michigan Council for Disability
Concerns, a volunteer organization comprised
of University faculty, staff and students and Ann
Arbor residents. "People just don't understand
or are afraid or just don't know."
According to data from the 2000 U.S. Cen-
sus, an estimated one in five people have a long-
lasting condition or disability. However, people
with disabilities are unlike many other groups
facing discrimination because they don't iden-
tify collectively as a community (One exception
is deaf people).
Bernard said that the lack of community iden-
tity can be attributed to to three main reasons.
First, many people who have disabilities "don't

feel that sense of commonness" with other
people who have disabilities. For example, it
is difficult for a deaf person and a blind person
to communicate. Second, facing the daily chal-
lenges of a disability is a time challenge as well,
preventing free time to organize. Third, because
there are both conspicuous and inconspicuous
disabilities, there is not always an observable
The diversity of characteristics that fall under
"disabilities" means that while society groups
people with disabilities together, the people
who are given that label don't necessarily feel
solidarity with one another. These people then
experience discrimination based on their group,
but they have no group to fall back on.
Like all institutions since the passage of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA and other
state laws, the University now has an obligation
to correct this situation. Legally, it is required to
provide a "reasonable accommodation" for any
qualified person with a disability. What "rea-
sonable" means or whether someone needs an
accommodation is determined on a case-by-case
basis. It is also required to meet ADA standards
on new construction projects and renovations
- the issue at odds in the litigation over the sta-
"Disability in particular strikes at the core of
the academy and fundamental questions about
what is our goal, the goal of the University and
the various resources we provide," Bernard said.
"What is our purpose?"
The lawsuit about the stadium obscures how
much the University is doingto make itself more
accessible to people with disabilities. There are
obvious areas that need improvement - snow
removal comes to mind today. But there are
other areas where University is not only meet-
ing the law - it is exceeding it.
"What we look at is what is the intent of the
ADA?" said Carole Dubritsky, the University's
assistant director of the Office of Institutional
Equity and ADA coordinator.
Looking to the intent of the ADA means
ensuring all kinds of accessibility, including
physical, programmatic and classroom accessi-
bility, among others.
The University is able to do this with an arse-
nal of services provided by different offices and
a constant re-examination of those services.

Services for Students with Disabilities. In many
cases, the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabili-
tation Act outline fairly specific requirements
for what services different disabilities require.
If a student is deaf, the SSWD does what it takes
to minimize the challenges presented by not
being able to hear. This could include assigning
an interpreter, note taker or a real-time caption-
ing device to spoken part of class into text. In
other cases, the SSWD merely points students
in the direction of department of the University
that can provide the service, including places on

assistant provost and senior director of the
office puts it, "It's not just about compliance.
We're also interested in - just using the physical
accessibility as an example - usability."
But there's no getting around the fact that
many of the buildings on campus are old. When
the nation's ivory towers first went up, elevators
weren't a concern.
Dubritsky is in the middle of a review of cam-
pus's more than 200 buildings. She plans to be
finished by 2010.
The last major organization with a unique
role is the Council for Disability Concerns, a

campus like the Adaptive Technology Comput-
ing Site, which offers specialized computers and
software to meet the needs of people with physi-
cal and sensory disabilities.
It also goes beyond the basic requirements of
the laws. For instance, the SSWD provides aca-
demic coaching for students with autism and
Asperger's syndrome.
"Without any laws to push us whatsoever,
we are starting to figure out what the model is
going to look like to allow those students to be
successful," Goodin said.
In 2007 alone, the SSWD provided services
for 854 students, a figure that has grown by just
over 300 students since 2001.
Another office at the University that works to
make campus more accessible for people with
disabilities is the Office of Institutional Equity,
which, according to the office's website, "pro-
vides leadership and support on matters relating
to equity, diversity, respect and inclusiveness for
all members of the University of Michigan com-
The Office of Institutional Equity is where
the University's ADA coordinator works. She
reviews blueprints, handles complaints and
works with other departments to provide ser-
vices and programs for faculty, staff, students
and visitors.
That office also makes long-term plans for a
more accessible campus. As Anthony Walesby,

volunteer group made up of University students,
faculty and staff, as well as Ann Arbor-area resi-
dents, which meets monthly to address disabili-
ty issues. Created by University President Harry
Shapiro in 1983, the council "creates a commu-
nity for a constituency that largely isn't a com-
munity," as Bernard said.
Each year, the council hosts Investing in Abil-
ity Week and gives out the James T. Neubacher
Award, events that raise awareness and reward
advocates for those with disabilities. Also, it
works with the University to review policy and
blueprints, as well as advocate new policies
and actions. As a separate entity, the council is
unique in its ability "to shine a light on what
areas we are achieving and not," Bernard said.
While these three groups may be the most
visible among the organizations working to
improve accessibility on campus, they are not by
any means all the University offers. Many oth-
ers are working tirelessly too, like those in the
University of Michigan Initiative on Disability
Studies. The fact that these three groups already
offer so much is a testament to how much sup-
port there is.
While the University has been demonstrating
a successful top-down approach to improving

(ABOVE) LSA sophomore Teddy Dorsette, who is deaf, uses a hearing device the University provides to students with hearing disabilities. (BELOW) Despite the
many resources the University offers to students with disabilities, full access to education is more complicated than physical tools.

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