A Disabled Campus


By Jamie Gribbin

The University of Utah (the U) is an institution that prides itself with its diverse population of students and their various abilities and/or disabilities. Located on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, The U aspires to create equal and equitable spaces for all students. This university offers 17 colleges with approximately 100 departments, offering a broad spectrum of pursuits for students to choose.

But, what about the students who are physically disabled: how do they get to class with ease? Moreover, what about the students who are mentally disabled? How do they get from class to class? This is where The U encounters an issue of ableism, referring to the discrimination against disabled bodies.

The U is located on a fairly steep portion of a mountain, so transportation can be a struggle for those students who are not able-bodied. Able-bodied persons refer to human beings who lack a physical disability. For those of us who are able-bodied, transportation around campus seems quite easy and accessible; the arguably most important thing on our minds would be walking down to the shuttle stop.

The U acquired the free shuttle system due its large campus and slope. While able-bodied persons are able to access these shuttles without caution during the harsh winter months, these shuttles do not receive as much accessibility to those who are bound to physical disabilities. Thus, accessibility becomes a problem when those who lack functional movement of the body are unable to utilize the services provided (such as free shuttles, easy access to buildings, and proper management of weather conditions).

Claudia Geist is an assistant professor of Gender Studies and Sociology; and her primary focus was to examine social stratification factors within the family. Dr. Geist teaches two gender courses and ten sociology courses (ranging from undergraduate to postgraduate classes). According to her, many students have discussed during and after her lectures about their concerns surrounding “pathways on campus are not cleared, and especially bus stops require the ability to climb over big mounds of snow.”

Dr. Geist mentions that winter months can be extremely troubling for those with physical disabilities, but also emphasizes to remember the mentally disabled. She says, “Issues of those with mental disabilities are even less resolved – the only guidance I have as a faculty member is letters about accommodations for exams and assignments, but that does not really help students who have difficulties with interpersonal interactions, or systemic mental health issues like PTSD.”

However, the U provides The Center for Disability Services (CDS), which is located on the bottom floor of the Student Union Building. The CDS is “committed to providing reasonable accommodations as outlined by Federal and State Law,” according to their main page within the university’s website. The CDS determines eligibility of accommodations through evaluating documentation, and if eligible by the standards of “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and University Policy” – the CDS will grant accommodations that are best fit for the individual.

Even though there are resources for physical disabilities, mental ableism is a much greater problem. Dr. Geist mentions that the best option she is aware of would be giving the student more time to finish an exam, or a quieter space for examinations. But as she states, “I am not aware about info regarding support for students with mental disabilities . . . I would love more education on how to provide sufficient support for students.”

Megan is a first year Educational Psychology PhD student and is a representative for the women’s track and field team. She brings to attention that “most buildings cater to people with physical disabilities,” and that the location of the university on a mountain can definitely become a challenge to those who suffer from physical ailments. But according to her, “mental disabilities on campus are not as openly discussed.” She says that it seems like often times it is the invisibility factor of mental disabilities that often lead to the silence, whereas “you can see someone with a physical disability, whether it is because they are in a wheelchair or have a walking still due to blindness.”

In her opinions, physical and/or mental labels could become of beneficiary use because it would allow people to see the disability rather than assume its presence and/or absence. Megan says that labels could lead to “greater possibility of good than detriment” for both physical and mental disabilities. While she understands the harm that labels can cause, she also emphasizes that it would create for more awareness of the different disabilities out there – which could potentially lead to better communication about the accommodations set in place for students.

Ableism and accessibility are issues that have only been slightly addressed on campus. While the U has provided evident efforts into creating a campus full of opportunity and equal access, the availability for all students is severely limited in terms of physical and mental disabilities. Universities cannot stay silent about physical and mental ableism when it causes unequal opportunities for the students. There are disabilities all around us, and it is the university’s job to create awareness and to provide the proper resources for anyone and everyone.