Berkeley Disabled Students group gathers for 1st protest Monday

Ethan Epstein/Senior Staff

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The Berkeley Disabled Students group, or BDS, organized a protest in front of California Hall on Monday morning in order to raise awareness about the continuous lack of accommodation for disabled campus students.

About 80 people gathered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. as several students shared their experiences with studying on campus with a disability. Members of Berkeley Disabled Students read a demand letter addressed to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Suad Nasir. In its letter, BDS demanded the campus end discrimination toward disabled students and change its policy and practice in order to support them.

“We are a little amazed that we had to write a four-page letter about so many issues that can’t even be addressed in one protest,” said Christine Tarrant, a co-chair of BDS.

The protest — which was the group’s first — was organized by Tarrant, Sarah Funes and Lisa Albertson, who founded BDS in November 2015. Albertson came to UC Berkeley as an undergraduate transfer student in 2009 and experiences issues to get accommodation herself.

BDS alleged in the letter that the campus violates disabled students’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In the letter, the group identified nine grievances that the campus has not addressed since an earlier letter it sent in June 2016, and it made 14 demands to Dirks and Nasir’s successors, as both have announced their resignation.

According to the letter, the Disabled Students Program, or DSP, has failed to provide accessible accommodations, and faculty does not understand how to implement reasonable accommodations. As a result, BDS has demanded a budget increase for DSP, the hire of disability-trained specialists and the inclusion of disability education in coursework, in addition to education and training for students and employees.

BDS demanded a cultural space for members to meet and organize on campus, as well as an organizational head or a centralized location that students can turn to for disability services.

Nancy Barker, a graduate student researcher, said during the protest that she was born deaf and needs an American Sign Language interpreter, but the campus failed to accommodate for nearly her entire first semester. Barker said this semester, DSP had agreed to provide her an interpreter for 21 hours per week. But two weeks into the semester, DSP reduced the agreement to eight hours per week without giving a reason.

Autumn Shearer, a campus senior studying media studies, said she used to call the Loop Golf Cart Service and they would pick her up at her current location. She said now, the transportation can only be called through an app, which is not accessible for her, as she is blind.

Additionally, Shearer said the service now only stops at specific pickup points, which are hard for her to get to because of her disability. In response to such complaints, BDS is calling for the Loop transportation service to be made more accessible in its letter.

Anne Finger, an independent scholar who uses a wheelchair, explained to the crowd that she was denied entrance to Moffitt Library through the only entrance accessible to her until she received the appropriate accommodation document.

“I am just struck about … how (the school) goes counter to this whole notion of ‘let’s welcome disabled people, let’s welcome the disabled community into our university. It enriches and strengthens our university. We want you here.’ Let’s have that attitude, UC Berkeley, of ‘we want you here,’ ” Finger said.

Contact Charlotte Kosche at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lisa Albertson was the only organizer of the protest. In fact, Christine Tarrant and Sarah Funes also organized the protest.