On Thursday, March 31, the Learning Assistance Center/Disability Services office sponsored a day long workshop entitled “Reframing Disability and Creating Inclusive Environments”. The meeting included interested parties from all across campus, from facilities, to athletics, to student services, and many representatives from the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Dr. Amanda Krause, a faculty member from the University of Arizona and an advocate of the disabled, was the dynamic speaker who kept us engaged and challenged our perceptions, expectations, and beliefs throughout the day.

Through lecture, discussion and small group work, we uncovered much of the bias that has existed that kept disabled individuals as “special” cases. Using historical images and images from media, she discussed how people who are blind, deaf, wheelchair users, etc have always been made to seem “less than” and pitied, requiring extra help and service. Even charitable works like telethons and penny drives, while well-intentioned, still had, as a consequence, perpetuated that notion that those people are “separate” and “special”. The real problem she identified is that environments are not built to be inclusive enough to all people. In fact the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 resulted in a cultural shift whereby those responsible for the built environment sought out just what is the least that needed to be done to be compliant, undermining the spirit of the law entirely. In actuality, using the principles of Universal Design, no disabled individuals need accommodation. If everything is designed to account for the challenges of those that are in a wheelchair, blind, hearing impaired, or otherwise disabled, then no special accommodations would need to be made. Accommodations are made for individuals to fit into a poorly designed system. It is expensive and requires many special inputs to make these fixes. Creating environments that are inclusive will repair existing limitations and provide equality for everyone. (The attendees from Disability Services mentioned that they are constantly working to put themselves out of a job!) If you are interested in the topic, I encourage you to review her powerpoint, and I’ll be happy to discuss it further with you. It was an enlightening day.