In a roundtable discussion last Thursday, students and staff discussed accessibility issues to University services and gathered suggestions about how to make the University more disability-friendly. As of yet, Disability Services have pursued a “bottom-up” approach to working with students with disabilities, developing individual plans to accommodate the needs of individual students. This “bottom-up” approach includes allowing students with specific learning disabilities to use laptops in class or have extra time on tests and making sure that students with physical disabilities or injuries can take BranVans to and from buildings for classes.

While this board approves of the personalized planning and attention brought on by this system, treating each issue separately does not excuse broader accessibility problems that require systemic change across the board. 

Due to the age of campus infrastructure, we worry that the University may not be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. When the Justice asked about the University’s ADA compliance status, officials did not respond with a clear answer. It is critical, both for students applying to the University and the broader consciousness of the University community, that this information is clearly stated and explained. 

We urge the University to complete and publish a thorough examination of our buildings’ ADA compliance statuses for the University community to review. The first step to at last addressing this issue is clearly identifying which buildings need what renovations to achieve compliance, then estimating cost and determining strategies for achieving the goal. Publishing the findings and recommendations of such a study would give students, as well as donors, a better idea of what Brandeis requires to achieve a more conducive learning environment. 

In addition to this, we also know from the testimony of at least one student at the roundtable that the designs of both Usdan and Sherman Dining Halls make it nearly impossible for blind students to navigate the all-you-can-eat sections without having a friend or assistant explain each separate dish. Seeing as how meal plans are now a mandatory expense, the fact that dining halls might not be easily accessible to all students is inherently problematic. Also concerning were this student’s points about difficulty utilizing Screen Reader software with the tablets in Upper Usdan Dining Hall. 

In addressing the changing needs of the student body, it seems that the University would be best served by acting preemptively in order to ensure that students can be comfortable from the outset. 

We find it hard to believe that no donors to a university committed to social justice would be interested in supporting these changes, as they reinforce Brandeis’ fundamental character and encourage a broader range of qualified applicants, paying back the investment in the long run. Before any educated action, dismissive or affirmative, can be taken, however, clear data must first be gathered. 

Students are entitled to their independence. In adhering more closely to a universal design which accommodates for differently abled students from the get-go, the University would be able to successfully ensure that this student body is both accommodating and diverse in its experiences and approaches to learning. It is in the best interest of the University to strive to accommodate for students needs before they arise.