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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

It’s past time for Rice to increase accessibility

By Thresher Editorial Board     2/13/24 9:56pm

A recent study conducted by Bowen Cho examined top universities’ accessibility and disability infrastructure, ranking them on the basis of support, inclusion, safety and critical pedagogy, among other factors. Each university was graded — and Rice placed 35th, with a whopping F.

Our peers didn’t do much better. The highest-performing universities, Harvard University, Yale University and the University of Idaho, only received a D. The study laid bare many of Rice’s — and arguably universities’ as a whole — gaps in disability resources.

For starters, Rice’s Disability Resource Center is largely helpful under the conditions that students can self-advocate. According to the DRC’s website, which outlines the general process of receiving accommodations, the onus falls on the student to contact the DRC, complete preliminary notification forms, deliver accommodation letters and initiate communication with instructors. For students with disabilities that may limit executive function, such as depression or ADHD, the process of obtaining accommodations may be a barrier in and of itself. 

“When you struggle with depression, you don’t always have the individual capacity or bandwidth to advocate for yourself, not to mention a sense of proactivity to pursue the help that you need,” a student at Harvard told Cho — and their university scored well, all things considered.

Students should provide disability documentation and make efforts to advocate for themselves. But that effort doesn’t need to be so immense it becomes restrictive. The University of Idaho, which ranked third in Cho’s study, offers an access portal that serves as a centralized location for students to review and renew accommodations. Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, the latter of which ranked fourth in Cho’s study, utilizes a similar portal system that notifies instructors of accommodation requests. At California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Disability Resource Center Access Specialists facilitate communication with instructors on behalf of the student.

This is far from the first time students have noticed the DRC’s gaps in coverage. Disability accommodations are required training modules for Orientation Week advisors every year. In September 2022, an SA resolution was introduced advocating for Rice to adopt a similar online portal system. Through the portal, students would request the DRC to send accommodation letters to instructors; students would then follow up with their instructors to implement the requests.

A few weeks later, the resolution passed. Over a year later, no such system has been implemented.

Of course, disability services don’t start — and certainly don’t end — there. Only three universities in Cho’s sample of 106 reported full physical accessibility. Indeed, students at Rice have long noted our campus’ infrastructure failures, from Hamman Hall’s lack of ADA compliance to a flooded Inner Loop many times it rains. Our sidewalks are (marginally) better than the city of Houston’s, though that bar is somehow lower than Rice’s accessibility grade. The Thresher’s own temporary office, which was slated to be on the fourth floor of Lovett Hall after the RMC’s now-delayed demolition, would have been inaccessible by elevator.

People from both inside and outside the hedges have noticed our school’s lack of comprehensive disability support systems, and we urge Rice to act. 

Several construction projects are ongoing or looming, such as the academic quad reconstruction, the RMC’s eventual rebuild, the upcoming construction of Sarofim Hall and, of course, colleges 12 and 13. We hope that the architecture firms and Rice administration design these new buildings with these issues in mind, prioritizing, among many things, accessibility. We hope that, as the student body expands, the DRC and Wellbeing & Counseling Centers keep up with the potential increase in demand, mitigating long wait times and advocating for their students.

We want to match our demands with our own promises, too. Cho’s report highlights the gaps in our coverage, saying “there is practically zero coverage of disability in The Rice Thresher.” Improved disability support begins with increased visibility of disability, and we promise we’ll do our part.

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Prayag Gordy, Riya Misra, Nayeli Shad, Brandon Chen, Sammy Baek, Sarah Knowlton, Hadley Medlock and Pavithr Goli. 

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