Beyond typical struggles with essays and prelim studying, many Cornellians face additional barriers to their learning experiences due to disabilities and injuries.
Cornell provides different accessibility resources, including Student Disability Services and CULift. However, students, professors and the Disability Advocates Union are advocating for a more accessible campus.
SDS seeks to provide students with accessible, equitable and inclusive learning opportunities.
“SDS works with individual students on a case-by-case basis to determine reasonable accommodations to facilitate their access to learning, living and other experiences,” wrote Beth Parrott, interim director of SDS, in an email to The Sun.
According to Parrott, students can complete an online Disability Self-Disclosure Form, call or email SDS to get in contact with a staff member.
“Students are encouraged to email or phone SDS if they encounter an accessibility issue or barrier at Cornell,” Parrott said. “This could include issues in the physical, academic or social environment.”
CULift services are an example of an SDS accommodation. The shuttle service provides access to classes and on-campus activities for students with mobility limitations. Students must get approved through SDS to gain access to CULift, according to Parrott.
Many students with disabilities can benefit from SDS accommodations. However, some students expressed room for improvement.
Natalie Suggs ’26 had a mobility constraint fall semester. Suggs qualified for CULift services but found that rides required extensive planning. To request a ride, Suggs said she had to do so by 10 a.m. on the business day prior to service.
According to Suggs, this time restriction makes it difficult for students who use CULift to go between their place of residence and central campus as they please. Students have to stick to the schedule they planned with CULift. Although they can call for last-minute rides, it is not guaranteed that a driver will be available.
However, Suggs is grateful for an overall positive experience with CULifts.
“They did a good job at generally being there on time for your ride and getting you to where you had to go,” Suggs said.
Prof. Charlie Green, literatures in English, taught English 1168: First-Year Writing Seminar in Cultural Studies with the special topic of Disability and Writing. He told The Sun that SDS should spread greater awareness of their services.
“I do think the University could make disability access more upfront, just in terms of announcing the services that we have,” Green said.
According to Green, there is an online accessibility map of campus, but it is challenging to navigate and hard to find. One way the campus could be more accessible is if this map was improved.
Additionally, Green points out that not all campus buildings have wheelchair access, and that it is difficult to find the narrow wheelchair access lanes when they are provided.
The DAU also advocates for stronger policies for students with disabilities. On Wednesday, March 1, the DAU is holding a Disability Day of Mourning to honor the people with disabilities who have been murdered by parents, relatives or caregivers.
“Our goal is to bring attention to inaccessible parts of campus and inaccessible systems that Cornell has, along with creating a community where disabled students can come together to discuss those issues and figure out what the best means of going about solving those things might be,” said DAU President Carson Taylor ’23.
Taylor explained that Cornell’s approach to accessibility policies is reactive rather than proactive.
“What we see a lot of the time is we’ll find something inaccessible on campus, we’ll find something that puts a burden on a student and we’ll bring it up to the relevant person authority, and their answer is, ‘I haven’t thought of that,’” Taylor said.
Taylor noted that Cornell could improve accessibility by addressing accessibility issues before a student has to reach out to SDS.
“[The administration] waits for someone to struggle, and then they consider fixing it. They’ll say, call us if you see a problem… and what that does fundamentally is it takes the burden of paying attention away from the person designing and administering the system towards the person impacted by the system,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, Cornell holds a responsibility to meet the diversity of disabilities on campus, before the responsibility is exclusively placed on students.
“We all have an opportunity at all times to put more attention into accessibility,” Taylor said.
Elizabeth Gardner ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected]