Celebrating Access for All
Computer screen readers, automatic doors and accessible parking spaces are a few of the many changes in the past 20 years that have enabled people with disabilities to navigate the campus, both physically and academically.
Since the Americans with Disability Act was passed in 1990, the university has improved access to buildings, pathways, transportation, and programs and services. The Disability Resource Center provides academic accommodations and support services to about 450 students. Assistance ranges from providing alternative media, testing accomodations, notetaking services, sign language/oral interpreters, real-time captioners and access to computers with assistive technology.
Cal Poly Pomona celebrates the 20th anniversary of the landmark legislation on Friday, Oct. 29, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Ursa Minor, Bronco Student Center. Keynote speaker Brenda Premo, who was involved with the writing of the act and was present at the signing, will speak on the ADA from a federal perspective as well as how it has affected individual lives. Premo is the founding director the Harris Family Center for Disability and Health Policy at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona.
The event, sponsored by the Access and disABILITY Alliance, will also include a demonstration of Kurzweil, a text-to-speech software, and a panel discussion with faculty on incorporating accessibility into the classroom.
Catherine Schmitt Whitaker, director of the Disability Resource Center, hopes the celebration will spread awareness about disability issues on campus and how accessibility improvements have helped the general public. For example, closed captioning, virtual reality games and restaurant menus with photos were originally developed to help people with disabilities. These improvements now benefit everyone, Whitaker says.
"I think the university and our faculty and staff are committed to striving to achieve accessibility," Whitaker says. "It would be nice if accessibility was on the forefront for everyone all the time. With the evolving technology and development, this is difficult. But if we don't integrate accessibility from the beginning all the time, we'll always be playing catch up."
When the Disability Resource Center was established in the late 1970s, most of the services accommodated students with physical and sensory disabilities. In the past 15 to 20 years, the center began providing more services to address cognitive, attention, learning and mental health-related disabilities. About 80 percent of the students currently registered with the center have a "hidden" disability, which means the disability is not physical or sensory-related, Whitaker says.
Another campus resource is the ARCHES (Achievement Retention and Commitment to Higher Education Success) program, which was recently re-funded with a $1.4 million, five-year TRIO Student Support Services grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program, in its 12th year on campus, provides supplemental academic advising, peer mentoring, tutoring, and personal development and financial management workshops to 150 students with disabilities. The retention and graduation rates for ARCHES participants are higher than the overall rate at Cal Poly Pomona.
The Access and disABILITY Alliance is a diversity group that advocates for accessibility and provides a welcoming environment for students, faculty and staff. For more information about the Access and disability Alliance, visit www.dsa.csupomona.edu/drc/AdA.asp.
(Photo: Gabby Arteaga tries to manuever a wheelchair during a disability simulation workshop as part of Disability Awareness Month in January 2010.)