Dear Students of UCSC,
This letter is addressed to everyone who holds misconceptions about or is unaware of the needs of students with disabilities. Over 1,400 students are registered with the Disability Resource Center. Students with disabilities are one of three groups who feel most unwelcome on the UCSC campus, according to the UC-wide Campus Climate Survey in 2012. As a result, the Accessibility Leadership Internship (ALI) program was established. While most students and professors respect disability, we as a campus still need to work on creating a welcoming environment for disability.
On April 12th, 2016, two posters in Baskin Engineering celebrating disability as an aspect of diversity were defaced with hateful words. Regardless of how ignorant or resentful you are towards students with disabilities, such actions are never acceptable, and constituted a hate/bias incident against a class of people protected by federal law. ALI program members felt personally attacked by the vandalized posters and felt less welcome on campus. Many other students may have suffered as well. Incidents like this are evidence that the ALI program is needed for spreading awareness and educating students and faculty about disability as an aspect of diversity, and academic accommodations as promoting equal access, not an unfair advantage.
What drives people to disrespect or commit hate crimes against students with disabilities? Some students may feel that providing certain students and not others with accommodations, like extra time in tests, is unfair. However, students with disabilities request accommodations not to get ahead of other students, but to get a level start. They are not lazy, as some students, professors, and the vandalism culprit accuse them to be, they simply require accommodations to overcome the additional obstacles they face. Equality is assessing all students in the exact same conditions, but this leaves students with disabilities at an uncontrollable disadvantage. Equity is providing every student the opportunity to perform at a comparable level.
What can you do to support and welcome students with disabilities? Start by not using ableist or derogatory language, and standing up to those who do. You can actively show your support by stopping by our Disability Awareness Week table in Quarry Plaza May 2nd through May 12th and signing our pledge and wearing our buttons. The ALI program will continue fighting for respect and accommodations for students with disabilities. We are students who are driven to succeed, and we refuse to back down in the face of adversity.