The Yale College Council’s Task Force on Disability Resources has released a report calling for the creation of a Center for Disabled Students, a consistently offered sequence of American Sign Language courses, a permanent course in critical disability studies and the development of a long-term plan for campuswide physical accessibility.
The Disability Resources Task Force was charged in fall 2016 with analyzing the effectiveness of current provisions for disabled students under the Resource Office on Disabilities. The seven-person group — which included students with various types of disabilities — was also tasked with suggesting new initiatives for improving awareness of the physical and attitudinal barriers some students confront.
The task force made its recommendations partly based on feedback from the YCC’s fall student-wide survey and from individual student comments.
“When we did get the results back from the fall survey, there were quite a few students who said something like a cultural center or community center for disabled students would be ideal,” said Sohum Pal ’20, a member of the task force. “It came from both sides, which is why we thought [the center for disabled students] was one of our most important recommendations.”
The report said a Center for Disabled Students would “fill the gap between the [Resource Office on Disabilities’] medical-model approach to disability and the social reality of being disabled on Yale’s campus.” This center would be a part of the task force’s emphasis on shared community and community-building within students who have disabilities.
The report argued that the Resource Office on Disabilities was not designed to provide emotional support to undergraduates in the same way as other community-oriented spaces like the cultural centers.
The task force suggested programming for the potential center include peer liaisons, speakers and discussion events, and a formalized path to political organizing. Rather than periodically checking on the needs of the disabled community via temporary task forces, the proposed Center for Students with Disabilities would serve as an umbrella body for disability-centered organizations across the University.
Yale currently does not have peer programs for disabled students in part because, according to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, there is a risk of breaching patient confidentiality. Still, the task force argued that the benefits of such a program would be important enough to try operating within those legal restrictions.
The report advocated for at least one course per semester in the field of critical disability studies and that “an appropriate department” hire a faculty member with the suitable background and training to both teach these courses and mentor students.
Pal noted that a critical disabilities course has been offered in the past by a guest lecturer or visiting professor, but there is no professor currently dedicated to teaching it. The University formerly had a professor specializing in disability studies: Karen Nakamura GRD ’01, who joined the University of California, Berkeley in January 2016 to chair the disability studies research cluster at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
In the short term, the report suggested that the University could hire an instructor to pilot an introductory ASL class and gauge student interest. Eventually however, Yale would convert this class into a formal language sequence that undergraduates could take for language credit. According to the report, the course would benefit both the deaf community by strengthening their integration into the general student population.
Lastly, the task force recommended that the University create and publicize a long-term plan for universal physical accessibility under the guidance of Yale’s Provost Advisory Committee on Resources for Students and Employees with Disabilities.
Yale does not have universal accessibility to all its events and buildings, according to the report, which said the University should work toward ensuring that this standard be met. Because few peer universities have taken the steps necessary to facilitate change in disability resources, the task force said it would be in the University’s best interest to lead and set an example.
The task force examined disability resources at Yale by comparing it to two peer institutions: the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University. Benjamin Nadolsky ’18, who chairs the task force, said the group chose these institutions because their well-funded and developed programs set them apart and could serve as an example to the Yale administration.
The report claims that these institutions were “beyond Yale” in terms of their offices on disabilities and the extent of their campus accessibility.
Brennan Carman ’20, a member of the task force, said that through the efforts of the task force and other students, there is now an undergraduate advocacy group, Disability Empowerment for Yale dedicated to handling issues pertaining to the disabled community on campus.
Nadolsky says he sees a few challenges in implementing the reforms but remained optimistic about meeting the challenges head on.
“We must overcome preconceived and fixed notions about disability within the administration, faculty and student body,” said Nadolsky. “I have no doubt that we will receive push-back. However, I believe that both of these hurdles can be met with enough dedication and effort. No one ever said progress was easy.”