Column: Where is the accountability to students with disabilities?


On Tuesday, it emerged that Vice-Chancellor Terry Magnuson had plagiarized the text of a grant application. Just two days later, it was announced that he would be stepping down from his post. Accountability was swift, with an official campus-wide notice sent to members of the university community.

All this, for a single grant application submitted more than a year ago. Naturally, academic misconduct should be taken seriously by any university, especially by someone who oversees research initiatives. But why doesn’t UNC take the health and safety of its students so seriously?

On February 26, Laura Saavedra Forero, a freshman who uses a wheelchair, was stuck in her dorm for more than 36 hours when the building’s only elevator broke down. She only came out when she did because emergency medical services evacuated her. Paramedics carried her down three flights of stairs in an experience she described as “traumatic” and “dehumanizing” on Instagram.

This is not the first time that she has reported problems with her accommodation. When the fire alarm goes off, it’s just stuck, according to an interview with The News & Observer.

So where was that quick responsibility when Saavedra Forero was stuck in her room? According to a post on her Instagram story, the elevator broke down again on Thursday, and she wasn’t even notified when it was fixed.

Carolina Housing still hasn’t been able to find her an accessible room on the first floor. UNC emergency guidelines state that wheelchair users should simply “stay put” in the event of an emergency, such as a fire. But there is no evidence that on-campus accommodations are safe for wheelchair users.

A statement released by WRAL said that although UNC said it could not comment on Saavedra Forero’s situation, “students affected by elevator outages in residence halls can work with Carolina Housing for individualized housing.

Let’s get some things straight. First, Carolina Housing should work to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place, fix elevators in a timely manner, and ensure that accessible first-floor dorms are available for students who need them. .

Second, Carolina Housing should just do these things. It should not be the responsibility of freshmen – or any student – ​​to train or manage Carolina Housing staff. If Carolina Housing management is unable to provide safe housing for students with disabilities, they should follow Magnuson’s lead and resign.

Third, these problems will never be solved if UNC continues to approach accessibility as “individualized accommodations” rather than a community-based policy. Students with disabilities should not just be expected, we should be seen as integral members of the community who should be prioritized and considered in all planning and policy development.

UNC has shown that when it actually cares about something, it can produce quick, deliberate changes that hold those responsible accountable. But when it stalls on accessibility, racial justice initiatives, financial aid, or paying fair wages to all of its workers, it’s clear UNC doesn’t care.

It’s time for UNC to deliver on its promises and make this campus truly accessible to all of its students.


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