Editorial Board: Stanford needs to better serve the disability community

April 15, 2021, 11:34 p.m.

It took a viral advocacy campaign and public pressure for Antonio Milane ’25 to receive the accommodations he needed to attend Stanford. Milane is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and cannot complete schoolwork without a scribe. The University initially refused to fund his medically necessary accommodation, classifying it as a “personal service.” Thankfully, it changed course for Milane, but it did not change the policy for other current and future students. 

A concerted activist effort, however, should not have been necessary. To its credit, Stanford has since recognized “the importance of looking at the totality of our disability programs and re-envisioning what the next era of disability access at Stanford should encompass.” A spring study group will transition to a fall task force. As the University considers how to improve accessibility, we urge them to examine a Disability Community Center as well as accommodation affordability and issues with housing and social spaces. Developing actionable responses to these three concerns is not sufficient to address the full scope of accessibility at Stanford. But it is an essential start. Ria Calcagno ’22 and Tilly Griffiths ’22, co-presidents of Stanford Disability Alliance who spoke to the Editorial Board about these issues, emphasized these as among the many concerns impacting the disability community on campus.  

The disability community on campus has been advocating for a community center since the 1980s. Past advocacy efforts for different communities on campus have highlighted the challenges that come with having to lead often decade-long campaigns. Although the process of getting a community center on campus has been traditionally long and somewhat unclear to those outside of it, the disability community on campus has persisted and there is a clear consensus that this is something the community on campus would like to see from the University. 

Earlier this year, activists were notified that, although their most recent request for a community center would not at present be granted, they would be able to create a year-long pilot program to include a budget for some resources. Although this represents a step in the right direction, it is not enough. Community centers on campus provide services and support in a centralized location. Such physical space is integral to the sense of community fostered. Community centers also often employ students from their respective community as well and in some instances, help create a base for long-term advocacy and activist efforts. Furthermore, the hiring of a full-time director that often comes with the founding of a community center also allows the University to better assess current gaps and react much more immediately and center its students in its institutional response.

In addition to the concern of the lack of a community center, Milane’s effort to receive funding for a scribe highlighted many of the other barriers faced by the disability community on campus that are often inadequately addressed by the administration. Milane’s situation specifically demonstrated the failure of Stanford in some cases to provide funding to individuals who require accommodations, whether that be living in graduate housing or having a scribe or paying for accessible transportation to and from class. Currently, these accommodations are often offered, but their cost is not covered. For example, countless students receive OAE housing accomodations every year; however, some of these accommodations result in a student living in a more expensive dorm, such as Mirrelees or Munger, that may cost thousands more per year. However, this cost is not covered, instead the student expected to pay it. This must be changed. There should be a clear program to ensure all necessary accommodations, housing and otherwise, are funded by the University. No other student should need to go through what Milane and countless before him have had to simply to secure funding to make a Stanford education truly affordable and accessible. 

In addition to the financial burden of housing and other accommodations for the disability community, Stanford should address the ways that on-campus housing currently exacerbates social exclusion for students with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require dorm spaces outside of “social spaces,” like lounges, to comply with its accessibility guidelines. The lack of elevators in the vast majority of multi-story all freshman dorms — with the exception of those located in Florence Moore Hall — and all row houses attests to this distinction. But campus social life is often concentrated in these spaces — dorm rooms and shared spaces above and even below the ground floor — excising disabled students from key components of the student social experience. Stanford has recently begun to release some of the plans for the upcoming neighborhood plan. As we explore this new housing system, ensuring that neighborhoods fully meet the disability accommodations needs is crucial to creating truly inclusive community spaces. 

Providing a safe and accessible environment for members of the disability community also requires better training for house staff, as well as the staff of large clubs and organizations. There is currently limited dedicated anti-bias training provided to all Resident Assistants (RAs) and leaders of large campus organizations. RAs are provided with some anti-bias module, including one related to microaggressions and two related to active listening, but there is less training provided that is specifically tailored to certain forms of discrimination and prejudice, such as ableism. This programming should be implemented and should include training on promoting inclusion of the disability community in social, academic and other dorm programming and culture. Given the lack of visibility of the disability community on campus — in part due to the lack of organized community center — disseminating information about issues that disabled students face and how to pre-empt and address them is particularly crucial. 

Before closing, we would be remiss not to mention that the disability community has been long overlooked, not just by the University administration, but also by the student body. The creation of a community center, increasing accommodation affordability and issues with housing and social spaces, will only partially rectify this fact. Many student organizations, including our own, have overlooked the disability community for far too long. This must begin to change, and it must be coupled with direct University action to improve visibility and access for the disability community across campus. 

If you are either a member of the disability community or interested in taking action, the Stanford Disability Alliance is reachable through their Instagram, @stanforddisabilityalliance 

The Vol. 259 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Jackie O’Neil ’21, Elena Shao ’21, Rachel D’Agui ’22, Nadav Ziv ’22, Megha Parwani ’21, Richard Coca ’21, and Sharon Du ’22.

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The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

The Vol. 259 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Jackie O'Neil ’21, Elena Shao ’21, Rachel D'Agui ’22, Nadav Ziv ’22, Megha Parwani ’21 and Sharon Du ’22. Contact the Editorial Board at editorialboard 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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