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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Activities & Organizations

New committee addresses accessibility concerns on campus

disability accessibility Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

A new committee, Equity for Students with Disabilities, has been created by faculty to address the accessibility concerns brought forward in a petition created by disabled students in Fall 2020. 

The requests in the petition were brought to the table in an initial meeting with faculty members from various departments. Assistant vice president for Student Affairs Suzy Harrington announces the creation of the working group shortly after. 

The petition, which was started by journalism senior Madelyn Chidester and computer information systems junior Jonathan Sasser, gained about 800 signatures where many voice their support in the comments. 

“Jonathan and I created the petition because numerous students, including ourselves, experience inadequate support as students with disabilities. Amid a global pandemic, the transition we had to make to online learning exposed many accessibility concerns,” said Chidester. 

The committee states its purpose as an interdisciplinary advisory group harnessing the collective impact of those who proactively support UH students with disabilities.

The selected faculty members are set to initially tackle concerns addressed in the students’ requests. The committee’s long-term goal is to focus on accessibility issues that go broader than the petition, Harrington said. 

When the petition was presented, faculty was collaborative and supportive, Harrington said.

“(Since then) several of the identified concerns have already been resolved including enhancement to the Center for Students with Disabilities group orientation and appointment system, installation and repair of the door buttons, expansion of testing hours using current technology and ensuring the accessibility for the CSD website,” Harrington said. 

There are many improvements the group plans to address soon.

Among these upcoming objectives is the renaming of the CSD and the implementation of the new Accessible Information Management system. Also, a sidewalk tour to identify various areas needing campus improvements was conducted last semester, and repair of these sites is set to begin in March.

Harrington emphasizes her department aims to ensure optimal accessibility and affirms this is at the forefront of all their objectives. 

Chidester hopes the University’s overall goal for accessibility includes lightening the load for disabled students. These students are forced to juggle their schoolwork while being a self-advocate, she said.

“Accessibility would require more compassion and trust from the University and professors. Disabled students know their bodies and minds more than anyone. Listen to them,” Chidester said. 

In terms of her response to the committee’s creation, Chidester said the group is a step in the right direction.

“There wasn’t any space for students with disabilities to be heard first-hand by higher administration,” Chidester said.

“Thankfully, Dr. Harrington has listened and empathized with our experiences.”

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