A late-January protest and sit-in by Students for Disability Awareness at Ohio State University has succeeded in getting the university to agree to provide the same transportation services to disabled students that it offers the nondisabled student body.
The protest began over a decision last August to drop the University's "Handivan" service on weekends--although campus transportation for nondisabled students was provided on weekends. According to protesters, officials told DSU the service was eliminated "because students were using the program to go to movies and recreational activities" and that this "denied rides to students who needed them for academic purposes." Like separate paratransit services everywhere, the service could not meet demand.
Nearly a dozen protesters from SDA camped out in front of OSU President William E. Kirwan's office after delivering a statement charging that disabled students had again been left out of current negotiation between the Central Ohio Transit Authority and the University over the free transit services it proves to the campus.
"Disabled students at OSU, the second-largest campus in the country, get around with very inadequate handivan service," said DSU faculty advisor Brenda Brueggemann in an e-mail message to disability academics across the nation. "They are almost always late to their classes." The two paratransit vehicles the University provided were often too full, said Brueggemann, to take all those waiting for it.
Without van transportation, said Brueggemann, disabled OSU student couldn't go to the library on the weekend--or almost anywhere on around the University grounds--"unless they can negotiate the incredible and often quite unpassable disaster of construction that plagues this campus."
"All other OSU students enjoy the privileges of totally free COTA buses whisking them out to two major malls, to the arts- and restaurant-heavy ŒShort North,' to the major movie theater location, to the Brewery district downtown," she said.
While some COTA buses were lift-equipped, said Brueggemann, not all of them were. "First, the disabled OSU student has to get to the particular bus stop, around the impassable construction (and lately even more impassable snow), and pray that the bus itself will truly be lift-equipped and the bus driver smart enough to make it all work properly.
"The stories I hear say this rarely happens," she continued. "In my 7 years here, I've never seen someone in a wheelchair use one of the COTA buses--for all the obvious reasons."
Sarah Blouch, Director of OSU Traffic and Parking, was quoted in local reports as saying that the Handivan weekend service was discontinued "because students were using it for recreational transportation, denying rides to students for academic purposes."
When a meeting with University officials netted the students only the agreement that services be increased on Saturdays during the day, and this only until mid-March "on a trial basis," the students continued their sit-in.
"Clearly, OSU does not understand its responsibilities under Americans with Disabilities Act," protest leader and DSU spokesperson Brenda Spinosi said ."If OSU provides transportation for the non-disabled that furthers their student life, they must provide Handivan for the disabled's student life."
After continued protests and e-mails from across the nation, the University agreed Jan. 29 to provide Handivan service during the same hours and over the same geographic area as buses serving nondisabled students. "We won; we won it all," said a satisfied Spinosi.
But the students aren't stopping there. In a January 19 complaint filed with the Dept. of Education, the students are demanding further ADA compliance, including distribution of course outlines in Braille and other accessible formats--without specific requests having to be made first ‹and what they called "better quality sign language interpreting." They're also calling for the establishment of a disability studies department.
Media coverage and legal action
--a potent mix