Curriculum and accessibility are the top two problems faced by disabled college students, said national disability rights scholar Simi Linton on Wednesday.
Linton’s lecture, held at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, addressed society and universities’ problems interacting with disabled people.
“My emphasis is on what we, as a society, think of disabilities,” said Linton, who has been unable to walk since her mid-20s.
Textbook publishers overlook disabled students in failing to include alternative formats of their classroom material, such as braille and audio books, Linton said.
And although campus planners follow laws requiring buildings to be accessible, they design details that prevent disabled students from getting to class, Linton told an audience of about 50 people.
Elevator buttons are often too high to be reached from a wheelchair, and wheelchair-access ramps are too far from main University entrances, said Gene Shelberg, who has spent 11 years dealing with these issues at the University.
Shelberg, who has been blind since he was 13 years old, is now the assistant director of the University’s Disability Services.
Shelberg and Linton agreed that society is ignorant about disabled people. Linton is determined to resolve this.
“The ‘university’ conceptualizes disabilities as deficits,” Linton said.
Working with disabilities
Shelberg graduated from the University in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in family social science. After graduating, he worked at the Disabled Students Cultural Center before taking a job with Disability Services.
As a University student from 1988 to 1992, Shelberg said people did not expect him to be able to navigate around campus with his disability.
“I typically find that people who are not disabled are either afraid or amazed,” Shelberg said. “Attitudes can keep you down.”
He said these attitudes are unfair because many cannot see past his blindness and assume he needs constant assistance.
“I’m a human being,” Shelberg said. “If you see me on the street, say ‘Hi’ to me if you’d say ‘Hi’ to me otherwise.”
Shelberg is focusing on providing five programs to assist University disabled students: giving learning disabled students one-on-one assistance, offering computers with voice reaction, converting documents into braille, improving building access and providing sign-language interpreters. Each program focuses on a single program important to disabled students.
Shelberg stresses that Disability Services strives to help all students at the University by improving the environment.
“We look at the environment as the obstacle or problem, not the disability,” he said.
Disability Services is one of more than 100 University groups relocating because of campus construction. On Oct. 29, Disability Services will move into the new Gateway Center on University Avenue and Oak Street. Currently, Disability Services is divided into three offices spread throughout Nicholson, Elliott and Johnston halls.
“It will be great to have all of our services consolidated into one building,” Shelberg said.
Linton was briefed Tuesday about University programs for disabled students, said Dana Britt Lundell of the General College. Linton said she was impressed with the University’s progress during the past several years.