The recent on-campus Solidarity March filled the air with powerful conversation about identities at Boston College, and more specifically about University silence on some pertinent campus issues. Among these are LGBTQ+ rights and discussions of race, but the march also included voices speaking to a certain issue that is often underrepresented in such conversations: that regarding disability access on campus.
This problem is certainly nothing new--BC has been undergoing investigation from state and federal agencies in recent months surrounding its lack of accessibility on campus. In response, one student group in particular--now enjoying its second year as a formally-recognized council within UGBC’s Diversity and Inclusion division--has been making headway with its refusal to be silenced in the face of such discrimination: the Council for Students with Disabilities.
Mary Royer, LSOE ‘17, currently serves as the Chair for CSD. In addition to fostering dialogue with University administration, she works to create shifts in the campus culture to also include these conversations. And, at the Solidarity March, Royer’s voice was certainly heard loud and clear in recognizing ability as a crucial part of the BC student identity.
“Our council aims to educate students, faculty, and staff on the lived experiences of students with disabilities and change the perception of disability,” she says. “Ability is an important part of all of our identities, and it is too often forgotten about in our conversations about diversity and marginalization.”
In addressing and aiming to break down both physical and social barriers that students with disabilities encounter at BC, CSD focuses on working with the University towards enacting policy-level changes.
“I spend a lot of time talking to and working with administrators and faculty members to make changes on campus,” says Royer. “I really try to stress to students with disabilities that we are here and we can voice their concerns to those on this campus who can make the changes they’re looking for.”
Among the initiatives that CSD is pushing for, one is adding another van and more drivers to BC’s Eagle Escort system. From 8 am to 3 pm on weekdays, Eagle Escort has two vans in service; only one of them is wheelchair accessible. However, this is the van that can be rented out for use by student groups, which further reduces its availability to students who need it.
“Much of the time, and always on nights and weekends, there is only one non-wheelchair accessible van in use,” says Royer. “The resource does not meet the need. This results in Eagle Escort often times showing up very late or not at all, which can be incredibly isolating for students with disabilities, particularly in the winter months.”
In addition, CSD has been working with the Montserrat Coalition to make accessible syllabi available on a University-wide scale. Royer argues that students with disabilities have the right to know if a course includes certain elements, like field trips that may not be able to accommodate them, as well as the total cost for course materials, and even access to accessible texts, such as large print or online versions of syllabi.
“We're also so excited that UGBC has just approved our Accommodations Form,” says Royer. “This is a form that students can fill out before attending any UGBC event to request accommodations that make the event more accessible and enjoyable. This is something that we really hope to expand for all BC events.”
As far as the larger, structural campus changes, however, CSD recognizes its inability to make much headway in remedying the problems many students with disabilities face. The power to make such actions lies in the hands of University officials, but increasing the campus conversation on these issues is certainly a starting point.
“Yes, the situation for students with disabilities on this campus can and absolutely should be improved,” says Royer, “but I do not think that it’s entirely bad and I am certainly optimistic that this year, and following years, will bring about some important changes. What matters is we--and a lot of others--are talking about accessibility and ableism in a public way, and that’s a huge start.”
Even in the creation of a route for the Solidarity March, Royer and others found it difficult to create a path that would be accommodating to students of all levels of ability. Chiefly, it was hard to find a route without stairs. Such efforts only go to show the inconveniences that students with disabilities must face each and every day, even in something as simple as trying to get to class.
“It is very easy to walk around this campus and not realize how inconveniencing or isolating finding an accessible route or pushing open a heavy door could be, and I’m guilty of that too,” Royer says. “I’d love to see ability discussed more in classes and in our conversations about identity and intersectionality.”
A first step in the right direction, Royer says, is using respectful language, like person-first speech (i.e. ‘students with disabilities’ rather than ‘disabled students’), and recognizing ability as another factor defining marginalized campus populations.
“What students can do is include ability in their discussions about privilege and oppression,” she says. “Acknowledge your privilege if you are able-bodied and engage in authentic and genuine conversations with those who are not not able-bodied about their lived experiences.” She adds that “invisible disabilities are very real and just as challenging as visible disabilities--never assume that someone is able bodied.”
Students with disabilities as well those interested in showing their support can do so by attending CSD’s events, including the upcoming Love Your Body Week “Uncovering Experiences of Ableism” round-table discussion with Professor Amy Boesky. Royer adds that anyone interested in collaborating, sharing their experiences and ideas, or asking questions can do so via CSD’s general email at [email protected].
“Between our CSD Town Hall and, of course, the Solidarity March, we have made huge gains just in the first two months of this school year,” says Royer. “I’ve met so many more students with disabilities on this campus, and I think--I hope--that they feel more supported and that there are advocates for them on this campus.”