USC, SDA team to review O-Week accessibility

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Western has always taken pride in its Orientation Week activities; however, some students have had a difficult time getting to the party.

Dan Harvey, a third-year media, information and technoculture student and president of his faculty, faced many of these challenges as an active member of the student community because of physical disabilities which require him to use an electric wheelchair.

The subject of accessibility and inclusion during O-Week has been a recurring concern for students with physical disabilities. Activities intended to take place outdoors potentially threaten the experience for anyone in an electric wheelchair in the event of rain. The grass on Talbot Bowl prevents students in wheelchairs from advancing further than the concrete path. For physically disabled sophs, the problems are compounded.

Many faculty soph teams include their faculty president. However, as Harvey’s inclusion on the team was unclear due to his condition, he did not follow the traditional procedures. Since he did not complete the paperwork and go through soph training, Harvey’s request to be a soph was denied.

“Usually the MIT president every year sits on the soph team,” Harvey explained. “From the beginning we had assumed that was going to happen. I knew the soph workload was pretty heavy and I probably wouldn’t be able to fulfil all the requirements that it takes to be a soph, such as outdoor events, late night walk homes and early mornings.

“There were a few e-mails going back and forth between a few people, but eventually it came back that [Orientation Staff] didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to be a soph because I didn’t go through the typical soph procedures, such as submitting an application and going through training.”

Though Harvey was content with not being a soph, close friend and founding member of the Student Disability Alliance, Jeff Preston, expressed concern.

“I know from my own personal experience that there’s no real interest in making the accommodations for a soph,” Preston said. “When [Harvey] asked for accommodations [the USC] just shut down and said they couldn’t do it.”

This scenario was familiar to Preston. As the president of Perth Hall’s residence council in his third year, Preston was interested in becoming a soph himself. Upon requesting some accommodations, his application was denied.

“When I was in third year I had just moved to Perth Hall and I wanted to get involved and be a soph and act as a leader,” Preston said. “I asked around at the time but as it turns out they weren’t willing to reduce my workload as a soph because of my disabilities. The fact that most people don’t sleep as a soph, that would probably kill me.”

Preston added being a soph to him meant more than just resumé padding. He said it is about leadership, getting involved and taking pride in your school, as well as the perfect precursor to many more social positions on campus.

Preston and Harvey decided it would be beneficial to bring the issue to the USC in an effort to make O-Week more inclusive for future students.

“We recognized the concern and thanked them for bringing the issue forward,” USC President Stephen Lecce said. “We will be working our hardest to make sure this issue is dealt with.”

Though the decision regarding Harvey’s status as a soph was final, the meeting still ended positively. The USC expressed willingness to assist Preston and Harvey by working closely with the Student Disability Alliance.

A committee involving members from Western administration, USC Board of Directors, Services for Students with Disabilities office and members of the SDA will be formed in the coming weeks to investigate and improve the inclusiveness of Orientation programming, Lecce said.

“No programming on our campus should be exclusive, and I can assure you that Orientation Week 2009, like 2008, is always getting better,” Lecce remarked.

“We are committed to making sure that every student on our campus is enjoying themselves and has no restriction to do so.”

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