Second accessibility forum establishes priorities

March 1, 2019

Students, faculty and staff discussed improving accessibility to Brandeis buildings, professor office hours, classrooms and residence halls on Wednesday as a follow-up on points brought up at the first accessibility forum held on Jan. 22.

Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion stated that the first accessibility forum gathered “an extraordinary interest.” The purpose of this second accessibility forum was to prioritize issues and complaints brought up during the first forum.

Brimhall-Vargas divided the attendance into six groups: classroom issues, physical disability, transportation and parking, changing the culture, residence and dining and accessibility services. Each group was made up students, faculty and staff. The groups were tasked to pinpoint immediate and long term priorities.

The larger group broke away into smaller groups for 30 minutes to look through the list of comments made in the first forum and analyze priorities.

The group, tasked with prioritizing physical needs, pinpointed making sure facilities kept up with handicap parking space maintenance and made sure that those were accessible to all.

The group also acknowledged that many professors’ offices are inaccessible to students with disabilities and that in order to be able to talk with their professors students would have to “out” themselves as having a disability. The group proposed having professors have an alternative accessible meeting space with no questions asked. The group also proposed an immediate inventory of all handicap buttons and spaces to make sure that everything works. A long term goal the group pinpointed was having all buildings on campus be accessible, which the group realized was a multi-year goal.

The group discussing transportation and parking on campus expressed the need to have BranVan drivers trained with accessibility in mind, and should have lit up signs indicating whether they are a campus or a Waltham BranVan. The group also stated that there should be an avenue to pay parking tickets online because the only way to do so currently is by going to the Public Safety Office, which might not be accessible to all.

The group reviewing ways on changing the culture highlighted the importance of coming together as a community to hold events promoting diversity. The group stressed the importance of empowering students with disabilities and making sure they felt part of the campus community.

Regarding classroom issues, that group pinpointed making syllabus language more supportive and inclusive when it comes to disabilities as an immediate priority. Another immediate priority, according to the group, is educating faculty on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.)

The group discussing student accessibility services acknowledged that the Student Accessibility Support website was not accessible to all students and that the website should include information educating the campus community on different form of disabilities. The group stated that having a Roosevelt Fellow-like peer for students with disabilities was an idea in the works.

Concerning the residence halls, that group pinpointed including braille, laundry machines with voice feedback, and making the Department of Community Living website accessible as immediate priorities. The group also discussed having students with life-threatening allergies be able to opt out of the mandatory meal plan. They also discussed making vegan options more available on campus.

Each group took notes on their list of priorities and these ideas are to be reviewed by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in order to come up with next steps.

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