Last week, I wrote about how I had set up meetings with the Disability Resource Center and Counseling & Wellness Center to better understand their mission and needs. On Tuesday, I met with the head of the DRC, Gerardo Altamirano, for a brief talk about disability, inclusion and the needs of the center.
We talked briefly about the budget. The health fee makes up a small portion of the budget while the rest of the money comes from the state. Altamirano also told me during our meeting that the office of the vice president would be working with the DRC to explore other options. By virtue of our encounter Wednesday, I was able to hear Vice President David Parrott voice his commitment to collaboration as well. On Thursday, UF announced they would increase resources for the DRC by outfitting four rooms in Cypress Hall to better support personal care assistants and adding an additional learning specialist and graduate assistant to the DRC’s staff.
That being said, the goal of this column is principally to talk about a trap we have fallen into with regards to funding. Altamirano helped explain this to me. The recursive line of thinking we fall into when we talk about funding for groups such as the DRC is there are these sad, struggling entities that just need a little more dough in the oven; give them more money and the problem is solved. We need to shift the way we think about the DRC.
Let’s talk about the DRC. First, let’s look at their mission statement:
“The Disability Resource Center celebrates disability identity as a valued aspect of diversity. We champion a universally-accessible campus community that supports the holistic advancement of individuals with disabilities.”
The DRC is more than just accommodations. Accommodations, to my current understanding, are more like a bandage on the flesh wound. Sure, getting extended testing time can be vital to an individual, but let it not distract from the issue of how much we overuse tests to measure academic success. Having an American with a Disabilities Act (ADA) sanctioned desk is better than nothing, but why do we even need to have stairs in our classrooms in the first place?
While I can’t (legally) take a pickaxe to the stairs in the Little Hall classrooms, there’s much that we, as students, can do to improve the way things are to make them accessible to all types of people by design. One example from my own experience has to do with closed captioning and transcripts.
Once upon a time, a student commented on a Facebook video that Student Government had uploaded, pointing out SG had gone from providing captions to videos to not doing so. The SG Facebook page responded by saying a “Facebook message to our page is all we need to provide a full manuscript to any student” to which the student responded affirmatively, but also pointing out that perhaps the Facebook page could post the transcript as part of standard practice. I saw the exchange and thought to do something about it.
The process of getting closed captioning and providing transcripts codified in SG law took almost a year, but it was something within my power as a senator to help change the system which we work in.
Those of you who read this column have or will have the power to make for a more accessible world, not one by accommodation, but instead by design. Given the sheer amount of programming and services SG provides, I know I will do my best to change the system for the better.
Questions, comments or concerns? Email me at [email protected].
Zachariah Chou is a UF political science sophomore and Murphree Area senator. His column focuses on Student Government.