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Brandeis’ journey of accessibility

Daniel Parker ’22 is a senior at Brandeis who shared his frustrations over the constant lack of accountability Brandeis has had in regards to addressing student concerns about accessibility. He described how the administration opened an open forum to provide a space for student concerns in January 2019, after students wrote a letter voicing concerns. Parker described his frustration with the forum due to the time spent on bonding activities and little time spent addressing student concerns. In fact, The Hoot wrote about these various accessibility forums and actions over the past four years. He described how in the fall of 2020 a group of students wrote an open letter to the administration regarding the issues that exist on campus in relation to student accessibility, from the inconsistency of the Branvan to accommodations and various aspects of physical accessibility. Students additionally worked with a lawyer who was involved with the American Disabilities Act on a 30 page letter to the Brandeis administration, to which they responded with a couple paragraphs encouraging the students to sign up for the committee addressing accessibility that was in the process of being created. Parker noted as a senior how very little necessary change has happened over the years, despite students advocating for change. He expressed how concerned he is that this will continue on for many years: “someone else might have to go through what we went through. Someone else is going to start a movement, the administration is going to laugh them off. They’ll be directed to the committee and not see any real change happen and be disenchanted like I am. They’ll have really terrible semesters because they are not getting the accommodations they need … I feel like if I don’t keep fighting this fight, someone else is going to have to do it.”

The aspects of Brandeis that are inaccessible that he described are more than unacceptable, they are also illegal. In 1993 the American Disabilities Act laid down rules on accessibility compliance, and some of Brandeis’ new construction is in direct violation of the law. Parker described how the student committee can make smaller changes in campus culture, but Brandeis should be responsible enough to bring an architect to survey the property. He explained how he’s seen changes in campus culture and how professors have responded to accommodations, but there are so many larger issues out of students’ hands, and things that should be non-issues. Parker explained how “this year there was a huge problem because many disabled students were not made aware of the deadline for the separate process for requesting accommodations for housing. So then the housing went to people who applied for it and wasn’t saved up for disabled people. Disabled people had to live East or Village where they had to walk up a huge hill or staircases without an elevator. There is no accessible freshman space …. This is not new, it’s always been like this.”

 

Parker went on to describe how ironic this is due to how Brandeis markets itself. 

“The student body is social justice oriented and I’m glad that I went here for that reason, but Brandeis saying that is a marketing tactic … It’s a school that was named for a guy who stood up for oppressed people, but we’re not going to honor that legacy at all. Brandeis is not ahead of its time, it’s behind. Brandeis markets itself in this way but doesn’t prioritize in its budget making sure its campus aligns with that mission. Liebowitz wanted a million dollar raise … before you do that, why don’t you make your buildings accessible?” He even added how Brandeis houses The Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, yet the campus remains inaccessible and its existence doesn’t negate Brandeis’ issues.

 Parker went on to describe how he has had friends who have had conflicts with Brandeis Accessibility after they were condescending towards students with mental illness or were silenced for speaking about legal issues, as they were told Brandeis accessibility would lose funding. He explained how maybe this would be appropriate if they weren’t going to do the work. He described how “There is a culture of trying to silence things, and it’s still very much there. Not so much among the students, but among the administrators.” 

 

There is still so much change necessary in order to make Brandeis a safe and livable place for everyone. Parker concluded by saying, “this is still a thing, things have not gotten much better, despite committees we’re still in the situation we were three years ago … Hey Brandeis you saw that letter the lawyer sent you so get your sh*t together.” 

 

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