A recent report published by NBC News has highlighted that 30 years after its inception, the Americans with Disabilities Act is not enough. We need to start going beyond compliance and thinking about what accessibility means in terms of disability and inclusivity.
The report highlighted one situation in January 2019 at Texas A&M University when an outdoor wheelchair elevator malfunctioned, leaving 24-year-old master’s student Kyle Cox stranded outside being pelted with sleet. Staff draped blankets over him to keep him warm as they worked to free him from the lift, which should have made getting to his classes possible. Unfortunately, Kyle says this is not a one-time occurrence and that similar issues happen on campus, and he often misses classes or arrives late. The accessibility issues are frequent enough that he now leaves for class an hour earlier than he needs to, so he has plenty of time to make it. He has also noted that wheelchair accessible seating is often in the back of the class, which is not suitable for his hearing impairment.
The university states that they are proactive in addressing accessibility at the campus and will respond to any reported problems. However, many students and disability advocates say that ADA law doesn’t go far enough. It is reported that in 2016, 20% of undergraduates in America had a registered disability, and in 2011, 90% of colleges and universities had disabled students enrolled for classes.
The ADA requires that public & private colleges and universities provide equal access to disabled students’ education. Still, the guidelines are open to interpretation. If the institution can present a case that making changes and modifications would result in undue financial burden, they do not need to address the accessibility issues.
Disability advocates say that schools follow the law in terms of ADA compliance, but that means only offering the bare minimum. For example, if a building has just one accessible bathroom and one elevator, it is in compliance, but it doesn’t necessarily offer adequate provision for a disabled student. For example, if that elevator malfunctions, a wheelchair user may not be able to access the building as no alternative is available.
It is time to start thinking about what disability and inclusivity means. In the last 30 years, the definition of disability has evolved, but so have the needs of people with disabilities.
You can check out the report in full here.