May 3, 2007

C.U. Accessibility Scrutinized

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Signs featuring the acronym CUDA and a handicap symbol have been visible throughout campus in recent weeks. The signs were posted for the Cornell Union for Disabilities Awareness’ event called “Accessible Places” in an effort to increase student awareness about physical accessibility issues on campus.
According to CUDA co-presidents Elyse Lee ’08 and Sloane Yu ’08, the project worked to draw attention to issues relating to physical disabilities. As a group, however, CUDA works for psychological, learning, sensory and other disability identity issues.[img_assist|nid=23369|title=Long way up|desc=The stairs by the suspension bridge can create difficulties for those on campus with disabilities.|link=node|align=left|width=72|height=100]
Members of CUDA clarified that physical accessibility issues are not just limited to people in wheelchairs, but are also important to people who push strollers or carry stacks of books.
Although Cornell prides itself on providing a first-rate education to “any person, and any study,” Lee and Yu pointed out that there are inaccessible areas of campus. As a result, CUDA identified the places that are restrictive to people with handicaps.
“We want students to start thinking of the physical environment as the barrier instead of the person’s disability as the problem,” Yu said.
Eryn Rosenblum ’07, vice president of CUDA, also said that the environment is the main issue at hand for the disabled. “In the context of accessibility, and access as a civil right, we wanted students to consider the exclusionary implications of the built environment,” she said.
Lee said that those having a physical barrier are not part of a small group of people, but that it can actually be a larger group of people on campus.
“These physical barriers may even play a role with why people have not interacted with others with physical disabilities.”
Some students, however, believe Cornell is as accommodating to students as possible.
Danial Asmat ’09, who is on crutches due to a recent injury, said that the University has been extremely accommodating.
“I called CUDA after my injury, and they were able to put me on their shuttle service after one meeting in which I signed some forms and provided the necessary medical documentation,” he said. “This service gives you unlimited rides to any location on campus for as long as your medical forms allow. All you need to do is submit a schedule detailing your pick-up and drop-off times and locations, and CUDA provides drivers to take you to those places.”
According to some students, the University has been accepting of proposals by identifying the problem of campus accessibility and in pursuing ways to improve it.
“They really supported this project as a way of addressing the problems of physical accessibility on this campus and were eager to help us draw students’ attention to the broader issues of access,” said Lee.
Student Disability Services has also been responsive in positive ways by working with students on an individual level to identify how the University can better serve them and all Cornell students. For example, Cornell will support having a class held in more accessible locations for all students.
Rosenblum stressed that the most important part of this project for CUDA, as a union of people with disabilities and allies, is that Cornell students start asking themselves about physical access.
“Students should think about all kinds of accessibility, access as a civil right, and what kind of a society we have as a result of an environment that excludes people from using its resources,” she said.