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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Students with disabilities and temporary injuries struggle to acquire transportation accommodations at UC Davis

Experiences vary for students seeking academic and physical accommodations, but many encounter a lack of communication, long waiting times and inadequacy of services

 

By REBEKA ZELJKO — features@theaggie.org 

 

Many students with disabilities at UC Davis go through the process of obtaining accommodations with the UC Davis Student Disability Center (SDC) to ease their academic experience. 

According to the SDC website, “The Student Disability Center (SDC) is the campus unit designated to receive requests for accommodation, approve services, and coordinate support for students with disabilities to create equitable access to the University’s educational programs.”

The SDC is responsible for a wide variety of services and accommodations for students, according to director Jennifer Bill. The accommodations students with disabilities seek range from extended test-taking to transportation services.

“The net is pretty wide,” Bill said. “We are the office that handles disability requests from students. Our charge is academic accommodations. Pretty much everything that comes through us is any accommodation for a disability.”

However, students’ experiences with the SDC aren’t always positive. Sonia Romanova, a third-year physics major, injured her neck ahead of the fall 2022 quarter. She contacted the SDC to seek accommodation, but she found the experience to be difficult.

“It was easy to get in touch with them, but it wasn’t easy to stay in touch with them,” Romanova said. “They don’t have much pull in terms of how they can help you. They can give you information, but there’s not much they can do to enforce accommodations.”

Romanova sought out an online accommodation for a coding class that was offered online during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was eventually denied the online course. 

“Obviously, if it was a chem lab, that couldn’t be accommodated because they can’t send me hydrochloric acid in the mail,” Romanova said. “But it was a coding lab, like we did this online during COVID anyway.”

The reasoning behind the lack of accommodation further emphasized Romanova’s frustration.

“In their words, ‘The online education wasn’t up to standard,’ so they couldn’t accommodate me online, even though during COVID they taught these classes online,” Romanova said. “So it’s basically the university admitting that their classes were not good quality during COVID, even though we paid full tuition. That money could have gone to my medical bills instead.”

Romanova’s frustrations weren’t just with the Physics Department’s lack of flexibility. She also said she experienced a lack of responsiveness from the SDC.

“I contacted them three weeks before the quarter, and they contacted me a week into the quarter,” Romanova said. “It’s not necessarily their fault, but they lack the ability to improve a lot of situations for disabled students. Maybe they are understaffed or underfunded; I don’t know.”

Romanova had to take two quarters of academic leave due to the lack of accommodation and the slow communication. 

Despite Romanova’s experience, Bill maintains that the SDC sticks to a responsive schedule.

”We don’t want people waiting a long time; quarters move very quickly,” Bill said. “This is an internal process. I review student requests, and I assign them to specialists Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. So it’s really always less than two business days.”

Much of the disconnect between students and the SDC tends to occur because of jurisdictional issues. Students with disabilities encounter a large scope of difficulties in higher education, but the SDC is exclusively responsible for providing academic accommodations.

Morgan Babauta, a second-year double major in managerial economics and environmental policy analysis and planning, experienced first-hand how these jurisdictional disconnects affect students with disabilities.

”I tore my ACL, and I needed surgery for it, so I was on crutches before and after the surgery,” Babauta said. “I couldn’t easily get to class because I couldn’t bike, and obviously crutching to class was painful.”

Babauta’s leg injury inhibited her from commuting to class easily, so she attempted to request transportation services from the SDC.

“I filled out the pre- and post-surgery documents and submitted them to the SDC,” Babauta said. “The doctors I was seeing were having difficulty diagnosing my injury, so I didn’t have a doctor’s note until a week into using crutches.” 

Despite a three-day grace period, Babauta wasn’t able to obtain necessary transportation services because of this technicality.

“The SDC actually denied me transportation because I didn’t immediately have a doctor’s note,” Babauta said. “But the problem was [that] I needed to go to class immediately.”

Babauta was eventually able to fill out all documents, but she still wasn’t able to receive transportation services.

“On the website, you can schedule times to be picked up and transported,” Babauta said. “I did that like three times, and I never got a response from them.”

Bill said the SDC’s official role is to ensure academic accommodations, while transportation services are arranged with a separate campus organization.

“Our charge is academic accommodations,” Bill said. “We set the accommodation but transportation services handle the transportation.”

Although the SDC is responsible for setting academic accommodations, Babauta still found that she had to arrange them herself.

“My academic accommodations were completely done between me and the professors, not through the SDC,” Babauta said. “I just stayed home until finals, and I emailed my professors so I was able to take my classes remotely.”

Other students found that necessary accommodations were met accordingly, including Amara Aimufua, a third-year sociology major.

“I tore my Achilles in June 2022,” Aimufua said. “The nice thing is, I have ADD, so I’m already familiar with the SDC, and I [had] my whole summer to figure out my accommodations.”

Over the course of her time at UC Davis, Aimufua was able to receive both academic accommodations and transportation services. 

However, Aimufua also encountered some difficulties.

“It was really annoying because there was a gap between the SDC transportation and TAPS services, so I had to get there by myself,” Aimufua said. “The whole first week of school they were late and they didn’t have enough drivers. I started biking more often if I could to avoid that issue. I don’t know if that was safe.”

Bill said the mission of the SDC is to ensure students with disabilities have the best academic experience possible, and the difficulties that have been reported are not the intended outcome. 

”Our goal is not to create a barrier for students and try to make it work,” Bill said. “And when things aren’t great, we ask students to come back to us. I would just like to emphasize […] that we work with a broad range of disabilities. So our goal is to assist students and provide support so that their academic experience isn’t disrupted.”

 

Correction: A previous version of the headline incorrectly stated that the Student Disability Center provides transportation accommodations. It has been updated accordingly. 

Written by: Rebeka Zeljko — features@theaggie.org