Disabled Student Program at Cal State Hayward Judy V. Belk
What do most students consider when applying to a college? The location? . . . the professors? . . . the curriculum? . . . the ratio of women to men? For Warren Jarrett, he had these and other considerations in mind when he began applying to colleges. For Warren, it was important that the college of his choice have an elevator in each building, automatic doors, wide bathroom stalls, and lowered drinking fountains. He had to be positive that the campus was physically accessible to his needs. Warren is a disabled student who is confined to a wheelchair. Like millions of other physically handicapped people, Warren has to be concerned with the limitations constantly imposed upon him by architectural barriers. When Warren was applying to colleges, he knew he wanted to major in Mass Communications. He visited several college campuses throughout the San Francisco Bay Area that offered the program but due to their inaccessibility, he found his list of colleges becoming smaller and smaller. He finally selected California State University, Hayward. The university had a good program in Mass Communications but more important, the campus was physically accessible to disabled students. He later discovered that Cal State did more than just provide physical facilities for the disabled. Cal State is one of the few institutions that has made an all out commit tment toward making the life of the disabled just a little easier. Cal State’s commitment and services to disabled students is spear-headed through the Office of Special Programs. The Director of that office is Associate Dean of Students, Jean Seavey Thomas, who five years ago began working with other administrators to coordinate disabled student services for the entire university. “I wouldn’t say that it was the beginning of our committment at Cal State,” said Thomas. “The committment, the interest and the grass roots effort and desire to help disabled students has always been present at Cal State. Five years ago was just the turning point for us. That’s when we started to take a serious look at what we were doing for our disabled and began to coordinate our efforts.”
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The first step in this effort was the formation of a university advisory committee on services to the handicapped and disabled. Every university department that could provide a service to the disabled student was invited to participate, including library personnel, job placement officers, and the director of health services. The initial meetings concentrated on consolidating disabled student services and establishing an open line of communication throughout the university. The committee, which is also composed of disabled students, has since been meeting on a monthly basis. The day-to-day supervision of Cal State’s disabled student program is under the direction of Carole Safir, program advisor in the Office of Special Programs. Now a full-time job, Carole’s duties include advisor to the disabled student self-help organization, recruiting volunteers such as readers, note-takers and tutors for the blind and the deaf. She also serves as a liaison between the administration and the needs of the disabled students. “We want to foster a sense of independence for our disabled students,” said Carole. “We want them to feel a part of the total university community.” Is Cal State succeeding in that goal? Warren Jarrett and most of the approximately 180 other disabled students who attend the university believe the program to be beneficial. Students pointed out that accessibility involves more than the removal of architectural barriers. One student asked, “What good is it if you can physically enter the classroom, but once you’re there, your professor or classmates are ignorant or insensitive to your special needs?” The disabled student program tries to remedy these kinds of situations by advising the disabled student, the professor, and other members of the university community on what to expect from each other. According to Carole, it is a matter of awareness. “Take for an example a professor who decides to move his class to another location. He may not realize that attendance might be more difficult for a physically handicapped student. He is not insensitive to the student’s particular needs; he is unaware or forgets the special problems a disabled student might have.”
Carole also cautions students against using a physical handicap as an excuse for failure to complete assignments or attend classes. “I try to meet with the student before or soon after he or she comes to the campus and explain what is expected of them as a student,” says Carole. “Together we try to anticipate and solve any problems they might encounter.” In addition to Carole and her staff, other members of the university community are encouraged to participate and volunteer their services to the disabled student program. Recently, one volunteer suggested the center do a little flag waving to help the entire campus become more aware of the services and facilities available to disabled students. As a result, May 1976, was designated “facility perception month.” Posters were placed throughout the campus noting such services as braille directories, special restrooms, automatic doors, ramps and the availability of interpreters and notetakers. The program was such a success that it will become an annual event. It is a fact that Cal State should be commended on its services and committment to the disabled. But what happens when the student leaves Cal State? Carole admits it is a real concern. “It’s taking longer than it should for the business community to realize that a disabled person can be a hardworking and efficient employee.’’ In other areas, improvements have been made. In recent years, state and federal legislation has been passed insuring the rights of disabled persons. The Federal ruling upgrading the Civil Rights Act (1962) which now reads that a person cannot be discriminated against because of race, creed, color, or physical disability is perhaps most important. Another important piece of legislation was recently passed by the California Legislature recognizing American Sign Language as a bona fide language thus giving legal sanction to the fact that for many deaf persons, English is a second language. A major victory for the disabled has been the passage of strict legislation regarding the removal of architectur-
al barriers. The Federal law states that all public buildings built after 1970 must by physically accessible to the disabled. Several action coalition groups are surveilants insuring that these laws are strictly enforced. For example, The California Association for the Physically Handicapped has several suits pending against both private and public institutions which are constructing buildings deemed inaccessible to the disabled. Similar actions are expected in the future as disabled people over the country begin demanding equal rights and treatment. In working toward this goal, other comniunity institutions could use Cal State, Hayward as a model in starting programs and services for the disabled. Both Associate Dean Thomas and Program Coordinator Safir stress the importance of pooling resources. “Find out what your organization is now doing for the disabled,” said Thomas. “Evaluate those programs and decide on definite ways to improve your services. You’ll be surprised how much you can do with little or no money.” Carole agrees and adds, “Your initial step should be to seek counsel from both able-bodied and disabled persons who have experienced it. It is important that you learn to talk with people you are trying to serve.” Carole suggests contacting the State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Veterans’ Rehabilitation services, and scores of other social service organizations that have initiated services for the handicapped and disabled. Carole also invites interested persons to contact her personally for futher information. Her address is: Carole Safir, Coordinator, Disabled Student Services, California State University, Hayward, CA 94542.
Judy V. Belk is Media Coordinator, Office of Public Affairs, California State University, Hayward, CA 94542
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