By Toan P. Do
City on a Hill Press Reporter

UC Santa Cruz is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation. Tucked away on the hillside of a beautiful redwood forest overlooking the ocean, UCSC students can enjoy the fresh redwood air as they walk to and from their classes.

But what if the beauty of Santa Cruz’s campus was eclipsed because students weren’t able to walk to all their classes? What if all the great lectures and sections that contribute to UCSC’s diverse learning experience were overshadowed because the professor could not be heard or seen?

<img src="img/disabilityAwareness_sidebar.png" alt="Sidebar" style="float:right; margin-left: 5px; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; border: 1px solid #000000;" />“The numbers we get from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) suggest 6 to 7 percent of students, so 1 in 15, are actually reporting disabilities,” said Katie Hodges, fourth-year anthropology major and officer for the Disability Alliance. “It’s very possible that it’s much closer to 1 in 10. That’s at least two or three people per class that have disabilities, and most of those are invisible disabilities.”

The Disability Alliance (DA) is an on-campus student organization dedicated to creating a welcoming and accommodating campus community that is aware of those with disabilities.

The DA and the DRC held a Disability Information Fair Jan. 15 to raise awareness about disabilities on campus.

The fair is just one of many different projects on which the DA and the DRC have collaborated. Other projects include a newly implemented peer mentoring program for first-year and transfer students.

The campus meets the challenges facing students with disabilities with a three-pronged strategy. Susan Willats, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance officer, handles all facility access issues so that students with mobility disabilities can reach the majority of UCSC’s facilities.

“I think the main problem is getting between buildings,” Willats said, referring to the plight of students with mobility disabilities. “For example, if you have a class at Cowell and you need to get up to Crown.”

Whenever students with mobility disabilities come to Willats, she does her best to accommodate their needs according to ADA guidelines.

“As far as existing buildings go, the ADA didn’t say you needed to make all rooms accessible,” Willats said. “What the ADA said was you need to make all of your programs accessible. But in fact, there are still a handful of classes and conference rooms that are still inaccessible.”

The DRC handles all academic issues, such as arranging for a sign language interpreter to be present at a lecture, relocating classes so that students with disabilities can attend, and even making sure all registered students are aware of the location of their classes through the peer mentoring program.

“If you look in the UCSC special collections you can find a report from the mid-1970s, before the 1973 rehabilitation act, when there were no accessibility requirements at UCSC,” said Karen Keen, programs service coordinator of the DRC. “The report actually said that UCSC was not accessible for people with mobility impairments and those students who use wheelchairs were directed to go somewhere else. So they were turned away.”

Keen explained that when the 1973 Rehabilitation Act passed, “They couldn’t just say, ‘Too bad, go somewhere else,’” she said. “As a result of that law, in 1979 the disability van started running, and I think it was around 1977 the DRC was created.”

Finally, the DA tackles the social aspect of the student community, focusing on raising awareness.

“Disabled people are everywhere,” Hodges said. “The 2000 census showed that 19 percent of people have disabilities. That’s 1 in 5. We’re everywhere. We are your brothers and your sisters and your moms.”

Hodges emphasized the importance of awareness.

“The more people who become aware of how many people in their lives are disabled, the less unreasonably challenging things could be designed,” she said. “Awareness is the key to having disabled people involved, and we have a lot to offer, but we’re isolated from a lot of places just because they are not really friendly.”