The issue of accessibility for students with disabilities has recently become much more visible on campus, after the art gallery in Bapst was closed a few weeks ago. One of Boston College’s strengths is its commitment to service, opportunity, and equal access, and it is crucial that the University works to uphold this much-vaunted principle in deed as well as word.
In some ways, BC’s accessibility is hindered by its topography-most significantly, its dramatic changes in elevation. With adequate planning, however, traversing campus can be made much easier for those with physical disabilities. For instance, while the recently renovated Academic Quad and O’Neill Plaza create a straightforward diagonal link with the Stokes Green in order to cut across Middle Campus, students with disabilities must go around the perimeter instead-a much longer route. While not entirely prohibitive, this inconvenience could have been alleviated when the renovations were planned.
In the long term, the University does have the opportunity to alter the campus physically. BC is still in the midst of reconfiguring its property and buildings, and the process of remodeling and rebuilding is slated to continue in waves for the next 10, 30, and 50 years as part of the University’s Institutional Master Plan. When blueprints for improvements and for entirely new buildings are drawn up and reviewed, disability access must be a priority.
In the meantime, streamlining the process through which students with disabilities can request and receive accommodations makes sense, and progress ought to be made as soon as possible. Hopefully the new committee co-chaired by Dean of Students Paul Chebator and Vice Provost for Faculties Pat DeLeeuw will not only come up with concrete recommendations by the end of the semester, but also will continue to meet and discuss the various aspects of accessibility in years to come. Releasing a report about the state of disabilities services will also serve to clarify the process of coordinating access and make clear what is already being done to address more systemic issues.
Another matter to consider is the various types of disabilities-while the closing of the Bapst student art gallery was specifically related to access for students with mobility issues, there are myriad other types of disabilities on campus. According to Chebator, the Connors Family Learning Center works with approximately 450 students who have learning disabilities, and the Disability Services Office within the Dean of Students Office works with about 275 students who have an array of physical, psychological, medical, and temporary disabilities. Each of these 725 BC students, not to mention faculty and staff members, faces different challenges, and each deserves the opportunity to have those issues acknowledged and addressed. UGBC, other student organizations, and individuals must keep the University appraised of the problems that they encounter, so that BC can continue to address both specific access issues and the ways in which the needs of those with disabilities are handled.
Many changes, such as those involving construction and bureaucratic workflows, cannot be achieved overnight. An attitudinal shift, however, can be set in motion almost immediately, and in this aspect the burden of responsibility falls on the administration, faculty, and students alike.
The social problems pointed out by students with disabilities-a lack of understanding about the realities of having a disability, and a tendency to focus on disability to the exclusion of personality-can be addressed by each person at BC. Ultimately, these issues can only be understood and resolved through open dialogue. The work that UGBC has already begun-forming a task force to study the state of disabilities on campus-is commendable. As UGBC is transitioning next year to an organization that focuses primarily on advocacy, creating a permanent disability advocacy board within UGBC’s division of diversity and inclusion would be a welcome step toward giving a formal voice to a group of students that often goes unrecognized. In addition, holding a BC Ignites forum or similar event focused around disabilities would be an effective method of bringing these issues to the attention of the wider student body.