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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Union’s Social Justice Committee to address campus accessibility

Published: November 7, 2008
Section: Front Page

When Supreetha Gubbala ’12 broke her ankle earlier this year, hobbling around campus taught her something possibly more important than what she was learning in her classes.

“I realized that it’s almost impossible to get around Brandeis when you’re disabled,” she said.

And that was only for a temporary period of time. So Gubbala, Student Union Senator for the class of 2012, came up with the idea to address the problem.

Gubbala and members of the Student Union’s Social Justice Committee have decided to address accessibility problems facing students with physical disabilities as one of the committee’s three main initiatives for the 2008-2009 academic year. The committee’s other two initiatives concern the Know Your Rights campaign and the rights of Transitional Year Program students. The committee, formed by Ben Brandzel ’03, serves as the Student Union’s outlet to address issues pertaining to social justice.

The three initiatives deal with issues that are “unethical at Brandeis, which go against our ideals of social justice,” Gubbala said. “When we’re talking about disability quality it’s not something that you think would be an inequality at Brandeis…considering we’re such a school that’s focused on social justice.”

Many issues face students with physical disabilities at Brandeis. Those students can only live on one floor of first-year residence halls, cannot live in North Quad, and can only live in one building in Massell Quad, Gubbala explained. Getting to class also poses obstacles, specifically in the Rabb academic quad. Though there are ramps surrounding Rabb, they are steep and students have difficulty getting into academic buildings without ramps.

The committee hopes to address both where students with physical disabilities may live on campus and what can be done to improve the accessibility of various areas across campus.

“While we’re not supposed to discriminate against disabled people, the fact is we’re hoarding them into one place where they have to live and be segregated from the rest of society. And we should have facilities where they have equal living rights [to live] wherever and with whoever they choose,” Gubbala said.

Rather than seeking a onetime major renovation, the committee hopes to address certain target areas each year over the next few years. This year, the Rabb academic quad is their main concern.

Over the past few years the Brandeis administration has attempted to improve on campus conditions for students with disability, as Director of Disabilities Services and Support Bet Rodgers-Kay told The Hoot last year. Such improvements include construction on a sophomore residence hall to make it more easily accessible. The project included installation of a ramp and automatic doors.

Transportation assistance for students with disablities has also improved in recent years. Those with mobility concerns may contact Rodgers-Kay who works closely with Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan and the Escort Safety Services to provide an on-call van for transportation assistance.

The Social Justice Committee’s plans are in the preliminary stage and members have not met with any administrators yet. “We’ve recognized that there’s a problem and started talking about things that we can potentially do to fix it,” Committee Chair and Senator for the Class of 2011 Lev Hirschorn explained.

In the meantime Gubala is working towards obtaining blueprints of the structure of buildings from the university to determine where the biggest problems lie and address them. She has contacted Vice President for Campus Operations Mark Collins but as of print time Collins hadn’t returned the committee’s requests for blueprints. Should the university not be willing to grant the committee access to details of building structures, Gubbala said, they can obtain them from the City of Waltham.

The committee hopes to work with the Student Union’s Disability Committee and Gubbala plans to speak with Brandeis students with disabilities because once “we see where they struggle the most, it’ll be easier for us to narrow down the problem,” she said.

Once they have viewed the building plans, Gubbala said, they will be able to “slowly reconstruct our school to make it more modern because that shouldn’t be a problem that exists in a modern educational institution.”