UT Senate to introduce resolution supporting campus shuttle pilot for disabled students

Ireland Blouin, Senior News Reporter

The UT Senate of College Councils plans to tackle on-campus accessibility by introducing a resolution in support of implementing a pilot shuttle program for disabled students at its next assembly meeting on Thursday.

Physical barriers like hills, obstructions and construction make campus difficult to navigate for disabled students, faculty and staff —  complications the resolution says it aims to address. During the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility committee forum last fall, these parties expressed the need for a shuttle service in order for students to more easily attend classes and participate in the University’s academic experiences. 

Senate’s Accessibility and Accommodations Committee, the resolution’s sponsor, said the University has plans to request funding for a shuttle service. This resolution will give that request the much needed student support for it.

Tvisha Karumuri, a Senate Recruitment and Retention Committee member, said she recently learned about a disabled student who attended the University for a specific program but had to choose a different major because of the campus’s inaccessibility.

“It was just a general consensus that parts of campus (are) not accessible,” public health sophomore Karumuri said. “That’s discouraging when you’re coming to a college campus for the first time.”

According to the resolution, these geographical issues impact the ability of disabled students to “get to class, attend office hours and to equitably participate in all aspects of UT’s academic experience, thereby affecting their academic performance.”

Lira Ramírez, president of the Disability Advocacy Student Coalition, said Senate has introduced similar resolutions before but these attempts were ignored by the Dean of Students Office, which claimed that the issue is unrelated to academics and thus outside of the realm of Senate concerns. 

“We clarified in our FAQ section and in some of our clauses that (the resolution) would have a direct impact on students being able to attend classes because of the shuttle,” Karumuri said. “It would have a direct impact with them doing better in their academics and being able to use all of UT’s academic resources to their full potential.”

Currently, UT offers other campus shuttle services to select groups on campus, such as services for student-athletes to get to and from class and for disabled people who attend University football games. 

“Considering that there is such a service offered for a large number of students already on campus, I think it is incredibly necessary that, considering the accessibility challenges on campus, this is a service that must be extended to disabled students,” Ramírez said.

Senate and UT Parking and Transportation Services estimated that the pilot program would cost around $1 million to implement during their conversations on the resolution. The Senate proposes that the University allocate funding from the “What Starts Here” Campaign and the Student Services Budget Committee

Other universities already offer similar programs of accessible rides between classes for students with physical limitations.

“There is a program like this at Baylor that’s currently going on and … Auburn University,” Karumuri said. “We’re modeling it after that, or using that as inspiration.”