This past Tuesday’s forum addressing accessibility on campus was a good start by the administration to begin the conversation of poor accessibility on campus, but fell short of meeting student expectations and setting specific goals.
The forum has met considerable critique from students, namely that it seemed orchestrated by the administration to limit student contributions. For a significant portion of the forum, attendees sat in small groups at tables around Levin Ballroom, discussing their concerns with the other people at their tables. If the point was for students to express their frustrations with accessibility to the administration, then they should have been able to openly speak for more of the forum. Instead, only a few students were able to openly address all attendees—their only opportunity to speak directly to administrators—especially because many administrators weren’t at the students’ tables. Also, the experiences of a few students who spoke out cannot represent the experiences and difficulties of all students with disabilities on campus.
It seems the “open forum” wasn’t as open as intended.
The forum did not determine any next steps or specific goals to address. It should have yielded a plan of action, or at least realistic plans for accessibility improvements. Instead, it seemed the administration held the forum in a half-hearted attempt to assuage student concerns and make it seem like they are more proactive than they actually are.
The list of accessibility issues on campus is lengthy. Food labeling in the dining halls often inaccurately reports allergies. The BranVan is often inefficient. Countless buildings, including residence halls, are inaccessible—Brown, Spingold, Shiffman and Olin-Sang, to name a few—do not have elevators. Neither do the North, Massell, East or Rosenthal residence halls. Students have endured detailed complicated bureaucratic processes and paperwork that is filed weeks late from the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) office. Some students have cited overworked employees and understaffing as justification for these issues, but there is the overwhelming opinion that the office drags out accommodation requests.
It is very easy to complain about all these issues, but we should also acknowledge that, at the very least, the administration did hold an accessibility forum when it was requested. It may not have been completely satisfactory for all attendees, but it was still a step towards addressing the multitude of accessibility issues at Brandeis. The forum was videotaped and provided real-time captioning. We commend the organizers and the group of students who pushed for the forum and are completely in support of the movement to increase accessibility at Brandeis moving forward. We implore the administration, and SAS, to listen to each student’s individual needs and take steps to tangibly improve accessibility on campus.
Editor’s Note: Sabrina Chow and Ryan Spencer did not contribute to this editorial.