National Disability Awareness Month: Campus Commitment to Access

Our mission is to create and maintain at California State University, Chico an environment where individuals with disabilities have full and equal access to and enjoyment of all aspects of the campus--California State University, Chico Policy and Procedures for Accommodating Individuals with Disabilities: Statement of Mission

To make the campus accessible to everyone, Chico State established a team of people with disabilities, staff, and faculty to conduct a review of the campus grounds, buildings, and programs, from 1994 to 1996. The team suggested changes to increase accessibility. Since that time, many changes have been made, such as the installation of automatic doors on many buildings and the purchase of additional computer technologies to help the visually impaired. Today, Chico State offers people with disabilities a variety of accommodations, including handicapped parking spaces, notetakers ramps, speech synthesizer software, additional time to complete exams and keys for elevators. The Americans with Disabilities Act Committee continues to provide accessibility and policy information to the campus community. Services to disabled students continue to expand, with Disability Support Services, faculty and staff across campus, providing help to about 600 students last year. Accommodations required to provide people qual access are tailored to each person's needs. While each person is different, a common element is the desire to be treated "like everyone else." Every person with a disability has a unique story. Here are two of those stories.

Lauri Evans (photo BA)
Equal Access: "Just Like Everyone Else"
As children move through grade school, the print in their textbooks becomes smaller and smaller. For Lauri Evans, this meant increasing need for accommodation, from sitting in the front of the classroom, to magnifying glasses, to new technology for the visually impaired. Born with a genetic malformation of her eyes, Evans lost her sight by high school. Throughout her educational experiences, she was part of the regular classroom and treated like other students. While in college, Evans arranged her own accommodations, finding a reader-scribe to help her with her exams. "I can't tell you how many exams I took in stairwells, hallways, and bathrooms," said Evans with a smile.

Today she works as a Support Services Provider with Disability Support Services (DSS). "This campus has been tremendously supportive and has facilitated any type of accommodation necessary for me to do a good job here," she said. She credits Ed Daniels, her supervisor and DSS director, with helping her receive the accommodations she needed. While she had some of her own computer equipment, it was old and needed to be upgraded. She now works with a screen reader and voice synthesizer that converts written material to spoken word, and a scanner with optical character recognition software. As Evans says, "When I'm not with students, I'm in front of my computer, just like everyone else here on campus."

"Just like everyone else" could be a motto for DSS, which helps students identified as disabled gain equal access to all programs of the university. Of the five to six hundred students served annually by DSS, about 60 percent are learning disabled. While each student's needs are assessed individually and accommodations tailored to those needs, some needs are more common than others. Many disabled students require more time to complete an exam than is allowed in the classroom. If arranging more time is difficult for a department or faculty member, DSS can provide space and proctors. For some disabled students, having a note-taker is what allows them equal access to lectures and other class events. DSS facilitates the match of student and note-taker, and offers carbonless paper and a stipend to the note-taker.

With the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), "the campus has a better understanding of what its legal obligations are," said Evans. The ADA may have clarified the expectations of access and accommodation, but necessity does not fully explain the supportive campus environment. While Daniels knows "there will always be people who say, `but that's the law, we have to do it, we don't have a choice,'" he believes the positive attitude of the campus community reflects more than this legal requirement. "We don't seem to have the struggles that other campuses report," he said. For example, Chico State needed interpreters for the deaf. "There was a crying, demonstrated need. The campus attached a priority to that," and obtained funding for two full-time interpreters.

Daniels thinks it's important for the university, as a major area employer, to recognize that people with disabilities are a valuable resource. The university can and does "provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities." One of the reasons Evans returned to Chico was her perception that she would be able to find a job that would value her skills and pay enough to support her and her son.

Evans' positive experiences as a student and an employee serve as models for the combination of support and independence she hopes to see for all students with disabilities. She provides a responsive, supportive environment as she facilitates reasonable accommodations, "reasonable" being the key word. "Students shouldn't have to fight for services, but at the same time, we're not here to make decisions for them," explained Evans. "It's the students' accountability and willingness to be involved in their education that matters the most." She encourages the active involvement of students in arranging their accommodations as a way of "learning to develop good survival skills, good study skills, and good communication skills." Her personal success attests to the advantage of learning these skills. After all, said Evans, "in life, there is no DSS office."

Michele Shover's van(photo JMW)
Doing What Needs to Be Done: A Lemonade Life
Thirty years ago, when she arrived at Chico State, "There was no notion of obligation to make any place accessible unless somebody had a personal sympathy for some other individual's need. There was no policy stating that disabled people should be able to go to school, go to college, and go to graduate school like everybody else," said Professor Michele Shover, Political Science. "Those of us who made these choices to work did so as a product of our own families, or motivation, or favorable circumstances of other kinds, that were personal."

Shover's mobility limitations were never considered a barrier to education by her Iowa family, although access was a prime consideration in selecting a college. She went to the University of Arizona not only because she loved Arizona, but also because her family was "told that the campus had been adapted in many respects for World War II veterans," she said. The fact that "disabled veterans had been made welcome there" was a major factor in her decision.

Her graduate education at Tulane University in New Orleans posed mobility challenges. At the time, Shover used crutches. Her department was located up two flights of stairs in a building with no elevator and no handrails. Her first day, she climbed the stairs accompanied by her mother. As they left the department, Shover's mother overheard the head of the department call plant operations and insist on the immediate installation of a handrail. It was there the next day and for the next five years, said Shover, "I climbed those two flights of stairs. "That was what we had to do in order to have a regular life and there was no thought of having anything less than a good life."

Over the years, there have been changes in accommodations for people with disabilities. After the 1990 passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), institutions increased access for paraplegics and quadriplegics by installing elevators, automated doors, ramps, and curb cuts. Shover, who uses a wheelchair at home and an electric cart on campus, particularly appreciates van-accessible handicapped parking and the changes in the Chico State bathrooms that allow people with wheelchairs the privacy that was sorely lacking earlier. Another notable improvement is the installation of elevators in all the buildings. Not that there aren't still occasional glitches. Once, Shover found herself locked in the basement of a building because the elevator was operated by key only. Those sorts of unintended problems diminish as awareness increases.

No amount of awareness will fix the current BMU for Shover. Built at a time when architects were enamoured with the idea of multiple levels, and before access was part of the campus consciousness, the BMU has barely adequate access. Shover abhors the freight elevator system she has to use in the building, although she appreciates the effort to make the building accessible. Smiling, she noted that by the time she retires, the campus will have an accessible BMU. Shover smiled readily and laughed easily as she recounted some of the "odd places" she's seen as a wheelchair user. Difficult access has never stopped her from living her life as she chooses. Often, she had to enter restaurants through the kitchen. At one place, she explained, "I remember the Trader Vic's kitchen as well as I remember anything else because it was such a dramatic place: huge open fires blazing, and hot sweaty men all over, and it was fascinating." Her wheelchair has given her an opportunity to "understand how things work. I've seen how hotels work in the back, not just going through the front lobby." Shover defines her approach as "a lemonade attitude." If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.

As for the impact of the ADA at Chico State, Shover said, "For people with a disability, there is a new sense of freedom—an ability to make choices and move about freely, to live without having to be dependent. That means a great deal to anybody with any kind of disability."

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