UC Berkeley is famous as the birthplace of the independent living movement. When Ed Roberts first arrived on campus in 1962, he was told by administrators, “We’ve tried cripples before and it didn’t work.” Roberts and other disabled students persevered, forcing UC Berkeley to change for the better. We on the campus are proud of the more than 50 years of legacy that they have left us.
Some may doubt whether the campus is still committed to values of access and inclusion when it comes to disabled students and employees. We write this open letter to underscore that this is not the case.
Being inclusive takes effort, but that change improves the environment for everyone. The changes to the built environment that allow wheelchair users to access the campus more freely have also made it safer and easier for parents with strollers, delivery people and bicyclists. Our efforts to make sure that all PDFs are accessible have not only helped students with print disabilities, but they have also helped with indexing and translation. Captioned videos mean that students who commute to campus or study in noisy environments can still catch up on their homework.
At UC Berkeley, we value our disabled students and employees for the diversity they bring to this campus. Financial resources are stressed and people are being asked to do more with less, but we still believe that we can live up to the high principles that were first instilled in us by that first generation of disabled students.
UC Berkeley is committed to providing a broad array of services to the more than 1800 students who are part of the Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP. Our 34 DSP staff members assist students with everything from arranging for academic accommodations and proctoring services to sign language interpretation and mobility consultations. DSP have introduced plans for an updated service model, which includes both comprehensive career services for students with disabilities and additional support services to help students navigate, survive and thrive in the campus environment.
The campus Division of Equity and Inclusion and the DSP has been holding town hall meetings to talk with students. Faculty members in the disability studies department have also been talking with students, employee and administrators. We’ve creating two new committees to oversee both student services as well as to ensure faculty and staff access is ensured. We’re planning a state-of-the-art makerspace and lab for assistive technologies. Together, we are all committed to UC Berkeley restoring to its proper location as shining beacon on a hill and model for disability access in the 21st century.
We hope you’ll join us in these efforts. Come to the town halls. Join one of the student, faculty or employee organizations, and show your support and give feedback. Together we can make UC Berkeley a better place for all.
Na’ilah Nasir is the former vice chancellor of equity and inclusion. Karen Nielson is the director of the Disabled Students’ Program. Karen Nakamura is the Haas distinguished chair of disability studies. Georgina Kleege is the president of the Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights at UC Berkeley. Fabrizio Mejia is the assistant vice chancellor for student equity and success.