UT students share thoughts on disability awareness around campus

Sofia Treviño, Life & Arts Senior Reporter

Eager to start her first day of college in 2018, Naili Salehuddin headed out to the Physics, Math and Astronomy building to find her Chinese class. After two hours of navigating without Braille signs, though, she finally located the class only to find it had already ended.

“Can you imagine (coming) to UT, and your first classroom literally tells you, ‘Oh, well, you aren’t welcome here,’” advertising senior Salehuddin said. “That was the feeling I got when I was there. There weren’t any Braille signs. The elevators didn’t work. I was like, ‘Okay, this is great.’”

The disabled community makes up 6.2% of the population in Austin. Organizations like the Disabilities and Inclusion Agency within the student government and the DisABILITY Advocacy Student Coalition help support the community in making campus accessible. From missing Braille signs to Lime scooters making some sidewalks inaccessible, students reflect on lapses in accessibility on campus.

Because of her impaired vision, Salehuddin said she plans out her movements much more than other students and she prepares for inaccessible routes. As vice president of DASC, she and other members work towards spreading awareness for the disabled community.

“There’s a lot of inaccessible physical places on campus,” Salehuddin said. “They might have ramps, but it’s literally on the other side of the building and you have to go all the way around. So they’re compliant, but not accessible.”

Her junior year of high school, Ananya Gupta, biochemistry and psychology sophomore, said she used a wheelchair for six months due to a tumor in her hips. That incident made her see the inaccessible spaces around her. Now, even just walking down Guadalupe Street, she said she notices obstacles she wouldn’t have looked at twice before.

For example, when she sees Lime scooters parked on sidewalks, she thinks about how it would affect someone in a wheelchair.

“When we think about things like (electric) scooters on sidewalks, people don’t think about the implications,” Gupta said. “They think, ‘Hey, I don’t care if I leave it, the next person can step over it.’ Maybe the next person is in a wheelchair or in crutches. The biggest (goal) is putting that perspective in people’s heads.”

Sports management senior Cole Glosser urges UT administration to do more work, such as raising awareness to better support the disabled community on campus. As someone with right-side aplasia — a disability that affects his mobility — Glosser uses a wheelchair and said he notices barriers other students may not, such as class materials previously not available online.

“When we went online, it opened my eyes that UT was finally aware of disabled students’ needs,” Glosser said. “They were bringing about accessible materials online for all students. That has always been asked for (from) disabled students … I’m not sure that UT would have gotten their act together if not for the fact that it was gonna be benefiting every student now, as opposed to only (fewer) students.”

Gupta, the Disabilities and Inclusion director of student government, said she looks forward to creating a safe environment for disabled students. She said she plans to host a town hall for students to voice their concerns and a career day event with disabled representation.

“The biggest (goal) is for people to be mindful,” Gupta said. “Even though you can’t see that a person has a disability, that doesn’t mean they don’t have one. Be very open, very mindful and be as inclusive as you can.”