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New Disability Justice program sparks conversation of inaccessibility on campus

A map of Westminster College indicates with a red arrow the path someone has to take that is unable to use stairs to get into Converse Hall. “There’s one single entrance in and out [to Converse Hall] for anyone that is not able to use stairs,” said Brendan Sudberry, ASW President and senior communication major. Graphic courtesy of Lauren Shoughro and Brooklyn Covington.

Disability Justice is a new program under the Student Diversity Inclusion Center created by Westminster College students who noticed campus is inaccessible for disabled students. The program hopes to bring awareness to the inaccessibility on campus and inform community members about the plight of disabled students in spaces created primarily for able-bodied people.

Quinn Winter is a junior communication major and co-coordinator of Disability Justice. 

“Disability Justice is about building a space where [the disabled community] can be built on campus and within campus as well,” Winter said.

Dan Fenn, co-coordinator of Disability Justice and sophomore public health major, said the program is meant to support all of the Westminster community.

“It’s important to clarify that we are centering disabled students, but this program is meant to be for […] the betterment of everyone,” Fenn said.

Fenn and Winter said they are planning a series of programs, talks and infographics to highlight how disabled students are disadvantaged on campus.

“We want to do both a series of discussions and panels of disabled students talking about their experiences so that people can just come and listen and hear people’s lived experiences,” Winter said. “Coupled with that, we want to have infographics showing and detailing all of the inaccessibility of [campus] buildings to […] raise awareness.”

Disability Justice is a new on-campus program, and as such the coordinators are trying to better understand the needs and wants of the Westminster community, according to Winter. Fenn and Winter said they encourage students, faculty and staff to take their survey for feedback about upcoming events and future program planning. 

“When you’re disabled, you have to exist depending on others and those people depend on you in the same way,” Winter said. “[…] You can’t exist without community when you’re disabled.”

One thing to think about when discussing disability is that every single disabled person experiences disability differently, just like with any other marginalized group, Winter said. 

“[Disability] is such a broad category. […] Every single person’s access needs will be different,” Winter said. 

There are multiple ways to think about disability, according to Winter. Winter said one way to think about disability is the content being shared multiple different ways so a much broader range of access needs is covered.

A map of Westminster College indicates with a red arrow the path someone has to take that is unable to use stairs to get into Hogle Hall. “To get into Hogle, if you need a ramp for whatever reason and can’t use stairs, you have to go all the way around to Walker Hall. It’s so strange,” said Dann Fenn, co-coordinator of Disability Justice and sophomore public health major. Graphic courtesy of Lauren Shoughro and Brooklyn Covington.

Classroom accessibility is another way to think about disability. 

“Is the professor only giving out the content that is necessary? Are they only saying it? And then does that disadvantage any deaf or hard of hearing students?” Winter said. “Because […] visually impared or blind students — they miss that on Canvas when using a screen reader.”

Emma Alhstrom, Office Lead at Disability Services and Testing Center and senior art administration major, said she has seen issues at the Disability Services and Testing Center for two and a half years.

“I know lots of students who use audio along with their readings and listenings,” Ahlstrom said. “So, with a textbook you can download audio, but the audio is not always existing, especially if it is a newer textbook.”

If teachers post a document that is a PDF, which is unscannable, then something like a screen reader is not going to be able to access that and read it to the student, according to Ahlstrom.

Ahlstrom said she also noticed not all of the wheelchair accessible doors work on campus.

“Specifically, Disability Services, we don’t even have [a wheelchair accessible door,]” Alhstrom said. “So, we always keep the door open and that’s something we would like to fix, but my understanding is that due to budget, it’s just not really something we are able to do.” 

The door to Disability Services and Testing Center remains open in the lower level of Giovale Library Oct. 6. “Specifically, Disability Services, we don’t even have [a wheelchair accessible door,]” said Emma Alhstrom, Office Lead at Disability Services and Testing Center and senior art administration major. “So, we always keep the door open and that’s something we would like to fix, but my understanding is that due to budget, it’s just not really something we are able to do.” Photo Courtesy of Brooklyn Covington.

Fenn said he noticed housing is inaccessible for disabled students.

“Hogle [Hall] and Carleson [Hall] are majorly, physically inaccessible,” Fenn said. “To get into Hogle, if you need a ramp for whatever reason and can’t use stairs, you have to go all the way around to Walker Hall. It’s so strange.” 

Fenn also said Hogle is a three level building with no elevator.

“One thing with disability is because it’s not talked about, people don’t realize […] just how structural it is and how many things are designed with no thought of any disabled people accessing that space,” Winter said. 

 Brendan Sudberry, ASW president and senior communication major, said there are some accessibility issues on campus.

“Our campus is old. So, physically, there are some accessibility issues,” Sudberry said. “If we look at Converse [Hall], I think that’s a great example. There’s one single entrance in and out for anyone that is not able to use stairs.”

Winter said they are hoping to talk to ASW about making their events more accessible.  

“I have some friends who weren’t able to go to Disco Night because of accessibility issues […] because of strobe lights and stuff that would be an issue,” Alhstrom said. “So, [ASW] should make sure that other activities are offered that won’t cause problems for students with disabilities.”

Sudberry said one piece of ASW’s goals this year is diversity, equity and inclusion. This also includes accessibility.

“I think in the whole consciousness of Westminster, [accessibility] is something fairly new but it’s so important and something that I personally feel passionately about,” Sudberry said. “So [equitable events] is definitely something that I think we will be looking into to see how we can make some more of those accommodations for students at our events.”

Fenn and Winter said it is a priority to partner with different centers and programs on campus, including ASW. 

“ASW has a lot of visibility and so having support through ASW for getting conversations out there […] would be really cool,” Fenn said. “We don’t necessarily have the same amount of visibility [and outreach] that ASW does.”

Sudberry said ASW has always focused on the idea of collaboration because Westminster is such a small community. 

“We’re all doing a ton of great work, but that work could be so much stronger if we’re working together,” Sudberry said. 

Sudberry said ASW is looking at hosting a whole series of events to tackle issues for the rest of the academic year. It is a strong possibility accessibility will be included in this series, according to Sudberry. 

“The idea [is to have] some town halls or public round tables to give students that platform to be able to come share their stories, share their concerns and things they’d like to see,” Sudberry said. “When we hear from students specifically, that puts a lot more power behind the work that we’re trying to do.”

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Brooklyn Covington is a senior at Westminster College studying communication. She has fun in the sun and finds value in embracing her naturally curly hair. Brooklyn has a passion for fashion and loves being a pommy mommy to her pampered dog, Roo.

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