USF’s accessibility is front and center during Disability Awareness Week

SDS kicked off Disability Awareness Week with a showing of “Crip Camp” followed by a discussion with its directors. PHOTO BY DOMINIQUE CADENAS CALVO/SF FOGHORN

In time for Disability Awareness Week, the Foghorn looked into accessibility resources on campus. 

According to Tom Merrell, director of Student Disability Services (SDS), Disability Awareness Week has been celebrated on and off at USF for at least 15 years. Merrell said that SDS’ main focus in hosting Disability Awareness Week is “bringing awareness to students with disabilities, especially as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” SDS notes that people with disabilities are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as people who have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” have a history of such impairment, or are perceived to have an impairment of this kind. 

To make sure everyone can enjoy campus life, USF’s Campus Activities Board (CAB) works to ensure all of their campus events are accessible. Jessica Crosby, a third-year media studies major and CAB’s vice president of internal affairs, said, “For Donaroo, we ensure there are access points for guests who need that accommodation. And we place warnings and signs explaining the frequent light displays that can cause seizures or other light sensitive health problems…We are hoping to continue to find ways to support all students to attend our events.”  

Outside of campus events, students can turn to SDS for accommodations in class. According to Merrell, exam accommodations such as private testing rooms and extra time for exams are some of the most common services provided to students — the office proctors over 3,000 exams a year. Other common accommodations fall under the category of “lecture capture,” where students with disabilities may use assistive technology like screen readers and magnifiers in order to better engage with class materials. 

One such student is Kendrick Lacerda, a third-year philosophy student who is blind. “I have some usable vision, but using my vision is very inefficient,” said Lacerda, in a statement to the Foghorn. “For example, I could look at the message I am currently writing and read it, but I would have to use software to increase the font size to a comically large degree.” Lacerda said instead of using a text magnifier, he prefers to use a software that reads text aloud to reduce eye strain.

In order to access a document with a screen reader, Lacerda said, the scan needs to be high quality and free from annotations. However, Lacerda has come across many documents that he can’t access because these guidelines weren’t followed. “SDS helps convert PDFs so they are accessible, but sometimes there’s miscommunications between my professors and SDS, because they assume that I can access a document as long as it is in a digital format.” Lacerda has previously fallen behind in readings due to such miscommunications, which strains SDS to rush PDF conversions.

In addition to class materials, some parts of campus have accessibility issues. For example, USF’s Community Garden does not have entrance options other than stairs. D’Vine Riley, a fourth-year psychology major and SDS’ students of color representative, said about the garden, “It’s almost like my sanctuary on campus… If the garden was more accessible, in terms of having a ramp, a lot of folks with different disabilities would be able to have access to it.” 

David Silver, associate professor and director of the environmental studies program, said about the Community Garden, “Before Lone Mountain East was built, we had a second entrance to the garden which was located near the garden’s southeast side. It was in no way ADA compliant, but it did allow students on crutches an easier entrance to the garden.” 

“One idea students and professors have brainstormed over the last few years is transforming the all-but-abandoned tennis courts directly behind the Education Building into a garden space, either with in-ground beds or raised beds,” Silver said. “This would give us more space for food

production as well as a gardening and community space accessible by all USF students.” Silver said that students who cannot access the garden can participate in the environmental studies deparment’s outreach activities, which include the USF Food Pantry and campus farm stands. 

Disabled students seeking community can check out the Community for Inclusive Living (CIL), a club whose mission is “to show that those living with a disability are not alone.” Sarah Enkvetchakul, a first-year advertising major and CIL’s social media and outreach coordinator, said, “It’s nice to be around others who understand what it’s like to live with a disability. They don’t make me feel like I’m ‘being dramatic’ when I need help. CIL shows me it’s perfectly okay to get the help I need.”

Disability Awareness Week featured events highlighting activists in the community. On Monday, there was a screening of the documentary “Crip Camp” held in McLaren, followed by a discussion between director Jim LeBrecht and USF professors Julia Thompson and Kae McCarty. The documentary tells the story of Camp Jened, a summer camp for disabled individuals, which was a part of the Disability Rights Movement’s start in the early 1970s. On Wednesday, School of Law professor Rhonda Magee facilitated a conversation with Haben Girma, a disability rights advocate and the first deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. 

For SDS and its student representatives, care for students’ disability experiences on campus doesn’t end at the conclusion of the week’s events. Riley said, “As we deconstruct our ableist points of view… we can make joy and general comfort a basic reality for all.”

If you missed these earlier Disability Awareness Week events and would like to participate in the festivities, you can stop by the SDS office at Gleeson LL 20 on Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for an open house with food and drinks.

For accommodation requests, individuals should contact Student Leadership and Engagement at or (415) 422-7256. In order to guarantee accommodations, individuals should make requests at least 14 days in advance.


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