I had to have an emergency surgery in the middle of the Winter 2018 semester. It completely caught me off guard, and I could not have seen it coming. It was a very intensive surgery of my entire abdomen so I would be in the hospital for about 2 weeks, not able to attend class or work on homework. I normally don’t really use my accommodations but I thought, “this is why I have them,” and went to the University Accessibility Center. Instead of helping me, the physical disabilities counselor said it was completely up to the professor whether they would grant me my accommodations or not. She told me there was nothing I or the UAC could do. Her best advice was to drop all of my classes. This blunt, unhelpful answer while I was in physical pain and hoping to get some help made me tear up in frustration as I left the UAC. I was not about to drop all my class when I was more than halfway done with the semester for a few weeks of surgery. This led me to realize that the accessibility center gives out accommodation letters on paper, but when I really needed help, they wouldn’t do anything for me. They didn’t advocate for me and offer helpful suggestions. They made me feel helpless. The accommodations turned out to just be a piece of paper. If a professor ever denied my accommodations, I couldn’t get any help from the accessibility center. Luckily, I told my professors the story, and instead of the heartless, “there’s nothing I can do,” I got from the accessibility center, they were compassionate and helped me to get through that semester, despite my surgery.
A Professor that denied me assignment when I came in late because of cathing. This has happened infrequently as professors tend to be more understanding that the UAC themselves. A few Professors have not let me go to the bathroom otherwise I would miss out on iclicker/quiz/in-class activity which has affected my health. Most of them are great though.
Two years ago, I was in line to finally become independent and get a accessible van, so that I could drive. This van had all of the necessary equipment for me to drive and because of this specialized accessible equipment, it cost $100,000. I lived in Heritage Halls at the time and had noticed for years that all the van accessible stalls were always full with other vehicles (many of which were driven by people who didn’t seem to qualify for the disabled parking pass). These stalls were vital for me for two reasons: First, I use a ramp to get in and out of my car because I use a wheelchair. If I do not have the extra space that van accessible stalls provide, I cannot get out of my van. If somebody were to park next to me in a normal stall, I would not be able to get back into my van. Second, because I use a wheelchair, if I parked far away in the regular student parking, I physically would not be able to get to campus. The hills are too steep and in bad weather, rain and snow make it impossible to roll for long distances.
I realized I would not be able to use my van at all without an accessible parking spot. I first asked if the Heritage Halls administrators would designate a spot for me to park. They understood the situation and said they would love to. They said to go to the Accessibility Center to get a parking pass or some sort of accommodation, and to make sure that the BYU Police knew. I went to BYU Police next and they were helpful, agreeing that this was an important issue. They said all I needed was a note from the UAC. When I went to the UAC they told me there was absolutely nothing they could do. They said it was against policy to have a designated parking stall. I left feeling very frustrated that I would not be able to ever use my van because I could not park it anywhere.
About a year later, I found out that the UAC’s previous claims were incorrect. They do have 4 parking stalls on campus that are specifically reserved for students with disabilities. After I found this out I went back feeling hopeful, but I was met with disdain. I was told there were only 3 parking spots available and I most likely wouldn’t be “disabled enough” to get one. She didn’t explain what her methods were for choosing the students who needed stalls. I feel like it was unethical that the UAC pitted disabled students against each other in a fight for 3 parking spots. If BYU had 5 students that really did need to use those parking spots, they should put in the effort to ensure all 5 have access. We should not have to fight about who is the most disabled.
In the end, I got a doctor’s note specifying I needed a van accessible parking spot. I emailed them and I met with them twice about getting a parking spot. I was finally told I could have the reserved spot by the Clyde Building, but that I should “consider myself lucky” to have gotten it. I felt happy, but distressed that I took a parking spot from someone that also needed it. When I went to the reserved parking spot by the Clyde I found it was actually inaccessible for my van. It was only a normal stall without the extra space of a van accessible stall. My doctor specifically wrote that I needed a van accessible spot but the UAC completely ignored my need. I know other students in wheelchairs who have experienced this exact same treatment. I thought I was alone in this, but I am one of many.
Over the last year, I have become aware of about 10 designated parking stalls that are reserved for specific disabled parking permits, which completely contradicts the UAC’s statement that reserving an accessible stall is illegal. I sent a YMessage to the physical disabilities counselor at the UAC asking if they supervise these designated handicapped stalls. She responded, “We do not. Those stalls are overseen by the police department. The UAC oversees four stalls total (there are two by the Maeser, the one by the Clyde and the one by the Talmage)”
I then sent an email to police department asking about the reserved handicap parking spots for specific permit numbers and who uses them. Rich Christianson responded: “The reserved handicap parking spots are for a specific person, if the sign has the permit number posted. The BYU accessibility office assigns these parking stalls and there are only about 10 of them on campus. Please call me if you have further questions.”
Clearly, there is either a major communication disconnect between the UAC and the police department or someone was withholding the truth from me. This situation has negatively affected disabled students at BYU. Students do not have the option to use these stalls because the University Police believes the UAC is in charge of distributing them, and the UAC believes the University Police is in charge of distributing these stalls. Thus, these stalls are not being used and the potential benefits they could provide is being wasted.
During my freshman year, I was involved in a project to create maps of showing every elevator, accessible restroom, ramp, and other accessibility features. The project was given to the Student Advisory Council (SAC) and a group of four students on the Council were enlisted to complete this mapping. The UAC supposedly requested this project, but I am personally unsure about its origins. The four of us researched all of the ADA laws and started mapping the buildings. The UAC printed off maps and met with us occasionally but we were mostly on our own. We completed as much as we could and handed the project off to the UAC. We also presented the project to President Worthen, Jan Scharman and other high ranking officials in BYU administration. We thought that because it was their idea and because we had already made a lot of progress, they would assemble a team to finish mapping and publish it on the BYU app. Unfortunately, this never happened.
While I was called back to present this project to more administrators that summer, I know of nothing that the UAC did to support the project going forward. The next year, I advocated to complete the project, but again, the UAC gave it to four unpaid students with no mapping experience. These students were also focusing on other projects on multiple different disability issues and weren’t able to make much progress on the mapping. My senior year, I went back to the UAC because I was wondering why the map was still not published on the app. While it would benefit hundreds of students, faculty, and visitors to BYU, this project needed the support of the UAC and administration. Many other universities have this resource, but BYU appears to think it is unimportant. The University Accessibility Center told me several times that they were very busy and it wasn’t their job to make campus accessible. To that, I would ask: “If it’s not their job, whose job is it?”
As far I as could tell, Shelli Mahler, the UAC director of physical disabilities and coordinator of the project, had done nothing and had pushed it to the back burner. It had been two years since the SAC had given this project to the UAC, but I was also told that the project was a a SAC project and not a UAC project. Shelli admitted she had done nothing for the project, other than assigning random students to work on it. After this disheartening conversation, I realized that I would have to take on this project with other students who cared about it. Thus, Jordan Jones and myself have been mapping campus by ourselves for the last several months.
The UAC said the project was stalled because of Physical Facilities, so I went and spoke to the Vice President of Physical Facilities, Ole Smith. In the meeting we had a conference call with Kelly Flanagan, Vice President of OIT. Both Kelly and Ole and were enthusiastic and willing to help, but were waiting on the UAC to send them the maps. Unfortunately, after this meeting with Ole, I was not contacted again and Ole never responded to my emails. I was trying to find out what in format they needed they needed the maps in order to easily switch from physical to digital maps. Later, when I asked Shelli to contact Ole Smith and OIT to ask what format they would want, she told me that about 15 different departments that would now have to approve putting the map of accessible restrooms on the BYU app. This occurred after Kelly Flanagan said that the OIT team was ready to go and just needed the maps. My job should not be to constantly keep hounding every administrator and organization to remember to figure out what their job is. I feel like I have had to create the change single handedly.
The UAC refused to accommodate writing part of a test on a IPad. This is a reasonable accommodation and without it my handwriting is painstakingly slow, somewhat illegible, and writing hurts my arms. The LSAC and other professors have granted this accommodation because they understand that both my hands are completely paralyzed. I went through a very smooth process to request LSAT accommodations with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and with other professors, but have had frustrating interactions with BYU. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) received all the documentation and promptly granted me my accommodations on writing with an IPad. The only person who has denied this is the BYU Accessibility Center, which is ironic, considering their mission to help disabled students. They have a camera in the testing room, and I offered to take test with a person watching me as well, but they still denied these reasonable accommodations. I feel that doing so has made it more difficult for me to take tests and has made taking tests more stressful. I usually still do pretty well on the tests, but I certainly think not having accommodations puts me at a disadvantage.
Last year, I went through a very smooth process to request LSAT accommodations with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), but later had frustrating interactions with BYU. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) received all the documentation and promptly granted me my accommodations. Unfortunately, I found out that I had to go through the BYU Testing Center to actually set up the accommodations. This process was the direct opposite of my experience with the LSAC.
I called the phone number the LSAC had given me and explained that I needed to schedule the test with the Testing Center. I explained that I needed to know about the set up in order to anticipate if the building and room were accessible for me. The woman I spoke with was very unprofessional and would not tell me where my test would be held. I explained that I don’t normally take tests in the Testing Center because it the auditorium is completely inaccessible. She assumed I would take it in the large testing room used by most students. This was frustrating to me because my LSAC accommodations specifically stated that I needed a desk to roll under and I knew the large testing room was inaccessible for me. She demeaned me by saying I should be able to use the large room without complaining. I explained that the only time I had taken a test in the Testing Center was a very negative experience and that I hoped to avoid a similar experience by scouting out the location beforehand. I asked specifically about the new accessibility center office that had been placed in testing center earlier that year. I hadn’t been yet but was wondering if my test would be in there since it was newly remodeled.
She belittled me and completely disregarded everything I said. She again stated I was wrong in requesting an accessible room, insisting I should just use the regular testing room. Without any explanation, she denied my right to see the room I would be tested in. During the course of the call, I stated three times that I would want to see the place I would be testing at, while she tried to dismiss me. Then she switched gears and said I would probably test upstairs in a office room or in the reduced distraction room: two options I doubt would have worked. I calmly explained that I would go to talk to someone at the Testing Center. She finally relented reluctantly. This burdensome conversation led me to realize that I needed help, so I went to speak with GeriLynn Vorkink at the UAC. She was kind and explained that they had received previous reports of this employee being a problem, but the UAC had no jurisdiction over the testing center accessibility rooms. She could not do anything because she did not hire the employees at the Testing Center. I felt confused that the UAC sends its clients to the accessible testing rooms in the Testing Center, but has no say in screening the employees there. It is concerning that disabled students must rely on employees who appear biased against us and who treat us with contempt. I should never be subject verbal harassment because of my accommodations, especially after they have already been granted. I was able to discuss things with the employee and reconcile, which was very beneficial when I had to go take the LSAT in their office later on. However, this experience could have been avoided entirely if the accessible testing center personnel received training on diversity and disability from the UAC.
While many physical barriers were addressed, the most important issue to me is ignorance surrounding disability in the minds of the people around me. My freshman year, I joined an intramural basketball game. My teammates and I thought nothing of it and had fun practicing for the first game. As we got to the game, the referees realized I was part of the team and refused to let me play. They told me they were afraid I would hurt myself and become a “liability.” This was an example of the darkness that I hoped to eliminate by letting my voice be heard.. This and other less pronounced incidents led me to grow accustomed to navigating the adventures of unequal access, but I want a better environment for the next generation of students. I continued to pursue change throughout in my undergraduate career. Many other universities realize that students should have the opportunity to participate in sports. There are 13 universities that even let disabled people compete and train for the Olympics, like any other student athlete. I have never taken a dance or sports class because I was afraid of them banning me when I got to class after this experience.
When I got married, there was a huge issue on where we could live together. Almost every housing complex in Provo is completely inaccessible. They are old and don’t have to comply with the ADA law. They usually have stairs up and down to apartments. There was one new complex on center street that was accessible, but was completely filled because it was a federal fair Housing Act 1998 and had subsidized housing. We ended up having to move to Orem.
Bathroom experiences: My freshman year I couldn’t get into bathrooms, the SWKT, MARB, TANNER etc were buildings that did not have truly accessible bathrooms although they said they did. I would have to go to other building to go to the bathroom if I needed to during class. This definitely affected my education as my bladder heath requires me to take more bathroom breaks, I take much longer in the bathroom, and there were no bathrooms I could go to. I missed class many times because of this.
I received a parking violation when it was stated disabled could park in any other stall if I needed to with an accessible permit. X Stalls apparently not included in that law, but we were not told this. where are we supposed to park? Not enough reserved stalls for disabled students.