December 5, 2013

Students, Administrators Raise Awareness About Accessibility for the Disabled

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By GRACE HURLEY

Cornell administrators and student leaders helped raise awareness about disabilities to the University Nov. 25 by traveling around different buildings on campus in personal assistance devices like wheelchairs and power scooters.

The event was organized by the Cornell Union for Disabilities Awareness, whose members guided participants as they navigated through buildings on personal assistance devices. According to CUDA president Lawrence Goun ’15, participants included President David Skorton, Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner and members of the Student Assembly.

The goal of the event, organizer said in a flyer, was to show the “positive and negative accessibility features in some of Cornell’s most traffic-heavy buildings.”

“There are countless individuals working diligently to improve the accessibility and inclusivity around campus,” the flyer said. “CUDA encourages a discussion about how students, alumni, staff, faculty, administrators, visitors and members of the community can contribute to an even higher level of accessibility and inclusivity.”

Goun said that bringing people together to raise awareness about disability accessibility could inspire change around campus.

“By bringing everyone together, the Cornell community can engage in more influential discussions about how people with disabilities are treated on this campus in the classroom, at work, in the dining facilities, in on- and off-campus housing, at visitor relations and any small-scale or large-scale student or alumni gatherings,” he said. “The more people who participate in the discussion, the better the accessibility and inclusion outcomes.”

Juliana Batista ’16, vice president of outreach for the S.A., who took part in the demonstration at Rockefeller Hall, said she had personal reasons for participating.

“I choose to take part as a student: it’s as simple as holding open a door,” she said. “I choose to take part as a student leader: we can write legislation to fix some of these problems in our facilities. I choose to take part as an educated human being.”

S.A. President Ulysses Smith ’14, who also participated in the Rockefeller Hall demonstration, said he thought the event allowed him to get “the slightest sense of what it is like to see the world from someone else’s point of view.”

“This is all about education,” he said. “The first step toward being able to do something about it is to understand the problem. That’s why awareness and education are so important to me.”

Smith added that the demonstration showed that there is room for improvement for accessiblity around the University.

“It is clear just from the short duration of the demonstration that we do not talk about disability enough on this campus,” Smith said.

According to Goun, the event was held during various time slots throughout the day in Day Hall, Rockefeller Hall, Willard Straight Hall, The Cornell Store and Martha Van Rensselaer Hall.

Goun added that each of these locations were chosen by CUDA members for specific reasons. For example, he said, Willard Straight Hall was selected because it is central to student life, while Rockefeller Hall was selected because it is a “traffic-heavy building both during the day and after classes finish.”

CUDA will summarize the results of the demonstration and comments from viewers in a report which will then be provided to the participants “so that they can advocate for accessibility and inclusion among their peers,” according to Goun.

“Universities are centers for personal growth and achievement. If universities cannot set a good example of how to respectfully include people with disabilities, then who will,” Goun said. “We all contribute our time and money to this campus in one way or another, so we should all be able to enjoy it equally.”

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