On Feb. 29, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. LeManuel Lee Bitsóí sent an email to the Brandeis community about celebrating “the contributions and achievements of people with disabilities” in March. The email wrote that over 20% of undergraduate students at Brandeis identify as having a disability, and over 25% of Americans have a disability. Dr. Bitsóí states that the practice of dedicating March to Disability Inclusion, Equity and Accessibility at Brandeis began last year. 

The email detailed the history of rights for people with disabilities, particularly the passing of the Rehabilitation Act in 1977, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in programs and activities receiving federal funding; the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which prohibits discrimination against the disabled in general; the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990 that required a “‘free appropriate public education’ for students with disabilities;” and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. in recognizing the right of people with disabilities to live independently. 

Despite these significant strides toward equality, a stigma associated with disabilities and an inadequate execution of enforcing these rights remain. Consequently, Dr. Bitsóí stated that by having a month dedicated to inclusivity, “we strive to recognize and support genuine movement against the forces of exclusion, marginalization, and invisibilization of [people with disabilities].”

Multiple students have noticed Brandeis’ lack of accessibility to those with physical disabilities, as seen through its many non ADA-compliant buildings and lifts that often break down. Still, Dr. Bitsóí emphasizes that systemic change can increase inclusion: “Access and inclusion can then be approached less in terms of individual alterations and adaptations and more in terms of new ways of building and sustaining spaces, processes and relationships that welcome all people.”

Brandeis will be hosting multiple events this month to acknowledge and educate students and faculty on disability justice. From Feb. 26 to March 4, there will be a Disability Day of Mourning display in the Heller School for Social Policy and a workshop on disability justice for those entering the workforce on March 15, as well as other events during Neurodiversity Celebration Week from March 18 to March 24.