Disabled students, families should suggest improvement where needed

Jeff Rose

The battle for accessibility can be exhausting for disabled people. We’re confronted every day by an inaccessible world, and it can be easy to accept it and not put up a fight. However, on our college campus during orientation, there are university employees tasked with providing us the accessibility we need. Because of the wide variety of disabilities, students and family members should provide extensive feedback during and after their orientation session on how their experience with accessibility can be improved.

Orientation is a time for making friends, registering for classes and finding your way around campus. However, scheduling and routes can often be inaccessible. During the semester, students and families can plan their schedules and visits with their disability in mind, such as including breaks for travel time, food breaks and so on. Orientation sessions’ schedule and routes make this impossible.

There are many varieties of disabilities, accommodations and inaccessibilities that students and families need to speak out about. If you suffer with anxiety and need more breaks between activities, note that in your evaluation form. If you have chronic pain and orientation is too physically straining and triggering, note that. The more of our disabled experiences we speak out about, the more that can be done.

New Student Services, responsible for student orientation, and the Texas Parents Association, responsible for family orientation, have faculty working to accommodate Longhorns. Both departments have websites for accommodation questions and both work to provide accessibility when needed.

NSS communications manager Melissa Porch said orientation advisers are trained to find accessible routes for people. NSS also provides accommodations such as golf carts and interpreters through working with Services for Students with Disabilities.

The same accommodations can be provided with family orientation. Texas Parents Director Susie Smith noted that routes for family orientation are prewalked and examined for accessibility, and the events are mainly in Gregory Gym and the SAC to reduce walking on the hilly campus.

There is still more work to be done. Christina Lopez, an English and international relations and global studies junior, said her mother uses a wheelchair and is pushed by her father when they come to UT’s large campus. She noted how long-winded and out of the way the accessible routes are. They were often late to their planned activities and events.

“My parents rarely visit campus because it is too much of a struggle for them. It makes them feel like the campus isn’t for them,” Lopez said.

Progress is being made. Smith noted they added captioning on the welcome videos shown at student and family orientations this year. As a Deaf person who knows the importance of addressing inaccessibility, I hope others like me won’t miss out on important parts of orientation that are supposed to welcome everyone. I certainly didn’t note this in my orientation feedback form when it happened, and I wish I did.

That’s why it’s so vital that we all work for those missing out on valuable experiences and other forms of inaccessibility by speaking out about our own experiences. UT can work to provide accommodations, continue to build and improve accessible routes and buildings and design our campus programming, activities and orientations to be inclusive to all.

There are so many ways this could be done, such as personalizing tours for disabled people like Lopez’s father suggested or scheduling more breaks. Fill out your feedback surveys and comment cards, so that change can happen.

Maybe this year they weren’t able to provide you with the best routes or captioned videos or the breaks you needed, but maybe they will for the next generation of Longhorns. And that’s what will matter in the long run.

Rose is an English and rhetoric and writing junior from The Woodlands. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jeffsroses.