Disability presents double challenge

The University must stay aware of varying ability in the classroom and campus buildings.

by Daily Editorial Board

The Minnesota Daily reported last week that some students find disability is often left out of conversations about diversity.

“I think that, in general, disability is just not on people’s wavelengths in the same way that race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation have been,” Jeanne Higbee, professor and director of graduate studies for postsecondary teaching and learning, told the Daily.

This issue is compounded in higher education. Not only must coursework be accessible and representative to many different perspectives and abilities, but historic buildings often come with accessibility challenges.

The University of Minnesota’s success on these fronts has varied. Many spoke highly of the University’s Disability Services program in last week’s Daily article, but the community at large is less conscious of those with disabilities.

Of the 131 University courses that fulfill the diversity liberal education requirement, none of them are focused on disability and only three mention disability in their course descriptions.

Furthermore, much of campus was built before the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, and many buildings were not designed with accessibility in mind. Facilities have been updated to comply with the federal law, but these solutions are often inconvenient or, at worst, thrown together. Some buildings have very few accessible entrances or temporary ramps. Recent construction around campus has not made this any easier.

While some of these issues are not easy to solve, it certainly doesn’t reflect well on the University to offer so little coursework focused on disability.

When weighing new coursework and renovations, the University should keep in mind the varied abilities of those in the classroom — and how they’ll get into the building.