Niki Elliott, clinical professor and co-director of the Center for Neurodiversity, Learning and Wellness, and Sylvia Mac, associate professor of education and director of the Center for Learning Innovation, presented “All are Welcome: A Window into the Experiences of Students with Disabilities at ULV” Tuesday at the Quay Davis Executive Board Room.
Elliott and Mac presented their findings on the experiences of students with disabilities at the University. The research was conducted on campus with six participants and weekly meetings to discuss and answer questions.
Their methodology is called “PhotoVoice.” This had participants take pictures of things on-campus and to reflect on the image of what they thought. The goals of “PhotoVoice” include reaching policymakers and to promote critical dialogue.
Images that were presented showed everyone a glimpse into the lives of students with disabilities. There were a range of photos with some affirming ableism and others in support of the student in settings that were hostile to them.
“It was kind of disheartening to see how students with disabilities at ULV have to navigate campus,” Alexia Daniels, a sophomore political science major, said. “I think that the disability shouldn’t be seen as a barrier but the environment they’re in.”
One image included the handicap button at the front door of the Citrus Hall. Mac explained that the student moved into Citrus when the button was never there. The student advocated for months to have the button installed at Citrus.
“When I first moved into Citrus, there was no button,” Mac quoted the student. “The first that came to my mind is that they forgot about us.”
Another example included the image of the buttons in an elevator at Citrus. The picture was taken by one of the participants who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair.
“The room is on the third floor, second floor, or higher, and there’s a fire alarm,” Elliott said. “This student gets to the elevator, but the elevators are turned off in the event of a fire, so you have to use the stairs.”
To escape in the event of a fire, the student must wait to have people bring an emergency chair lift to carry the student out of the building. Citrus currently has no dorms on the ground floor, so students with wheelchairs must wait in the event of a fire.
“I didn’t know if I was going to die,” Mac said, quoting the student.
Elliott and Mac also explored the Church of Brethren’s philosophy surrounding disabled individuals. They looked through archives and articles in the Campus Times archive to find documents regarding the Church’s views on disability.
“It’s important that we not leave anybody behind nor leave anybody out,” Mac said, quoting Jeanne Davies, a leader in the Church of Brethren. “Not only for the good of the people who are disabled but for the good of us all.”
The American with Disabilities Act prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities and to provide equal access for all. However, religious organizations have no obligations to comply with the act.
“I thought it was cool that the Church of Brethren gave out awards for accommodating for disabled people, even though they didn’t have to,” Mark Morales, a freshman digital media major said.
Elliott and Mac found that the Church of Brethren created the “Open Roof Awards.” Despite having no obligations, the church awards congregations or districts who go above and beyond to serve people with disabilities.
The University has made strides to better serve all of its students. The Office of Accessibility Services offers services for students with disabilities. But there are still ways to better provide an environment for all students to thrive in.
“Some of the things that we highlighted through the student’s PhotoVoice, were things we couldn’t have known,” Elliott said. “We thought we did the right thing, but until we hear the voices of people, we don’t know the intentional harms and needs that are still needing to be met.
Kael Matias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.