Disability Access: A Constant Headache
by Melissa Nilles


As many prospective freshmen look for a campus to suit their individual needs this spring, they take into consideration all of the great aspects a campus has to offer, from team sports, to campus tutoring. What most people don’t even think about is the struggle of disabled students to find a campus of their choice that also offers facilities for their unique situations. When blind, deaf, or wheelchair-using students decide they want to attend UCSB, some assistance and outreach is available to ease their difficulties in getting around, but there’s generally not much to offer on the UCSB campus unless you really search for it.

There are two organizations at UCSB dedicated to the assistance and organization of disabled students: the Disabled Students Program and the A.S. Commission On Disability Access (CODA). The Disabled Students Program provides support to those with mental, visual, and auditory impediments, while CODA fights for proper legislation, equal opportunities, and access to things regular students often take for granted. CODA was founded in 2000 and his since spearheaded many significant changes on campus.
UCSB graduate Jeremy Johansen, Ph. D., an active member of CODA for more than 8 years, said the program was created because there was “a need for student representation within the community of students with disabilities. I wanted to give students a voice, and not let administrators dictate how things are done,” he said.
Johansen shared his frustrations regarding the layout of the campus. He knows it has to vary in order to have interesting architecture, but some locations, like the bus loops, or the sunken ground levels in South Hall, prove to be consistently frustrating challenges for UCSB students with various disabilities and setbacks. Other headache-inducing campus locations include Friendship Court, which has no wheelchair access, several places along the bike path lacking bumps or indicators to caution blind, and the hazardous sunken ground and steps outside the library.
Johansen was also disappointed in the recent closure of the Adaptive Recreation Program, a program provided by the Recreation Center that helped disabled students play wheelchair basketball and other sports. “I was able to make use of the RecCen, and I could not use the RecCen before it,” he said. “It’s a shame they killed it.”
Johansen believes UCSB does not try to put up barriers for disabled students.”It’s just that these physical access barriers discourage a perception of welcomeness for the disabled community,” he said.
A former student, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed his concern about both the layout of the UCSB campus and the perceived attitude of students and faculty toward the disabled. Comparing UCSB to other schools in the UC system, this former active member of CODA asked, “Why do you think Berkeley has 60 active student wheelchair users this year alone, when we only have about three or four wheelchair users and no blind students whatsoever? Berkeley has six specialists on disabilities, while we have none,” he said.
“UCSB is a campus that doesn’t follow the rules on purpose, not because they don’t understand or don’t have the money,” said the former student. “In 1992, UCSB implemented a three-year transition plan to fix everything on campus that was accessibility-impeding. They made a list of things to fix, but never fixed it.”
This disgruntled former student would like to have all UCSB programs accessible for all students, regardless of disability, and have meeting places for outside classes where people in wheelchairs can access them.
He concluded in a furious tone, “some professors will say ‘why aren’t you good at being blind, like so-and-so?’ It’s an unfair statement.”
This is not to say that the entire faculty ignores the daily needs of disabled students. Many are more than willing to accommodate disabled students in their classes, and in 2004, faculty researchers Jim Marston and Jack Loomis created a GPS system to guide the blind to class, around campus, and around the rest of their worlds.
But efforts to increase disabled student access could go much further. Wanda L. Thomas, Business Officer of the Disabled Students Program, expressed her woes about the lack of an on-campus shuttle system.“UCSB is the only UC that lacks a shuttle system around campus,” Thomas said. Permanently disabled students could clearly benefit from the assistance and guidance to classes, as well as temporarily disabled students who find it difficult to attend class with their injuries. Reynaldo Padilla, a student living in Santa Catalina, an off-campus dorm, found it incredibly difficult to get to campus and class with a debilitating leg injury. Padilla griped, “ the Temporary Disabilities Department at UCSB told me lower extremity injuries don’t merit help, but I really could have used some extra help.”
“How about when the class starts ten minutes after your lecture every Monday and Wednesday? [I’m supposed to get there] on crutches? “ asked Padilla. “My last quarter, [I had a] final on a Saturday that started at 8 a.m., but buses ran on weekdays at 8:30 so I was about 45 minutes late to my final. I couldn’t walk, and to add to that, it was raining. [As a] result, I fell three times, and my freshly operated leg swelled up. What really got me was that a patrolling UCPD officer saw me and didn’t offer a ride.”
Due to reports of extensive distress in the permanently and temporarily disabled student community, Thomas shared that she believed “Associated Students is currently working to get funding for a shuttle from UCSB this year.” So we wait anxiously, hoping the campus can add more facilities for disabled students to increase ease of access and decrease the constant headache of which most of the UCSB population remains blithely unaware.