This document serves as list of inconsistencies in the news that we seek to discuss. As a goal of our Commission we continue to seek to be transparent and credible. All other statements are true and accurate and should be taken as such.
ANALYSIS ON THE DAILY UNIVERSE ARTICLE:
1. The Article Overall
All in all, the Universe article is strange for publishing a misleading narrative, attempting to cast doubt on students’ voices and experiences, making a controversy where there never was one. BYU students have conducted this research to help BYU become a more inviting place for those with disabilities. As the Daily Universe “serves as the voice of the BYU community” we hope they will listen to the disabled students’ voices in the report. We are excited to continue to meet with organizations passionate about our project and continue to expand. We love BYU and all of its opportunities.
2. Is Kendra Muller involved with Portal Entryways?
True, Kendra loves to help with ideas that bring equal access to the disability community. She has been involved in many BYU student-led projects to continue to further accessibility. She has never formally signed as an employee to Portal, but continued to help because she is passionate about equal access. As a wheelchair user she helps Portal test out door devices as well as running social media. She is not hiding this information. The reporter discussed with Kendra and seemed to agree at the time, and also got word from Portal that they were not helping or affiliated in any way. As she graduated BYU and has been preparing for law school she is no longer can help Portal as of July 17th, 2019.
The Universe is eager to point out Kendra’s connection with Portal Entryways, but the Universe fails to acknowledge her leadership in Daily Universe reporters’ collection of data on accessible doors. They fail to discuss her role as the Vice President of BYUSA. Yes, she received a full-tuition scholarship and stipend for her work leading research for the accessibility mapping project with many other BYUSA students. Nor her specific involvement as an ambassador and speaker for the University Accessibility Center in the annual Presidential Leadership Conference attended by multi-million dollar donors, Disability Awareness Week panelist, volunteer notetaker, speaker to On-Campus Housing employees, as well as other minor events. Because of her passion for equal access, Kendra has become involved in nearly every accessibility project of which she is aware. Kendra loves BYU and all the student-led accessibility projects she has been a part of for the past 4 years. The Commission is benefited by her knowledge of the many different projects that have occurred throughout her time at BYU. The Commission and every individual commissioner support all student- and faculty-led projects designed to improve accessibility. This support is not motivated in any way by desire for personal monetary gain, only by a desire for improved accessibility for all individuals.
3. “Current and former BYU students believe they are making a positive impact on disability access on campus”
We know we have made a positive impact on disability rights. In our statement-taking, we found most students thought they were alone in the problems they were facing. Students have felt reconciled as they have told their own story and refused to let others tell it. Numerous individuals have expressed gratitude for the Commission’s work in revealing common problems faced by disabled people at BYU. While we continue to work collaboratively with BYU and help them realize that advocacy for equality is important, students have already been happy that we have shared their insights.
From the latest University Devotional, Looking to the Margins: Creating Belonging, June 4th, 2019
“To help someone truly belong requires an intentional institutional effort as well as the cooperation of individuals of good will. Belonging summons the courage to confront our own prejudices and challenge the assumptions we make about others. Belonging enlists those who are wise enough to just listen and humble enough to admit that they don’t fully understand. The desire and ability to help another person belong at BYU, at Church, in our apartments, or in our neighborhood is a characteristic of advanced discipleship.”
4. “BYU should actively seek ways to help its students by implementing different doors systems that students have specified. This includes Portal Entryways, or fob controlled doors, installed at Heritage Halls.”
True. While this is one recommendation, there are 97 other specific recommendations that have not been discussed in the Universe article. We invite BYU to consider the other feasible recommendations and create a plan with current disabled students regarding the most important points and ways to implement them. While we know change takes time, by giving a voice to disabled individuals, BYU will be able to succeed in facilitating increased inclusion. This was an accurate recommendation at the time, as no other options had been given besides the two options stated above. On April 15th the report was completed and at that time, BYU either had not installed or made students aware of Kindoo.
Josh Horne is a student at BYU. Sam is a recent alumni. Portal ideas started after Sam saw a student in a wheelchair that was struggling on BYU's campus. Many students know about Portal, especially the disabled students we spoke with, because they were guinea pigs in testing out how to get through a door easier.
5. “It also says that after the commission interviewed 479 people with disabilities, 84% said accessible door buttons are not truly accessible.”
Mostly true. We apologize for the lack of clarity in this statement. This statistic was found in separate research. We did not personally conduct this survey. This has been promptly corrected in our recommendations. Our 100-page final report was compiled over two weeks in order to release it at the end of winter semester, and may contain grammatical or technical errors. We acknowledge this, but still believe it served a purpose in quickly providing information to all faculty. For the most current information, please see our website.
6. Alleged “uncertain methodology” in Universe article
This research is meant to be a helpful resource for BYU and faculty by compiling in one, all of the different documentation and statements from individuals. We have done this with the hope that BYU can listen to many voices at once and discuss measures to include and listen to students. This is and will continue to be our methodology. We have written methodology that can be viewed on our website as well as in our Final Report.
We are very excited for any improvements BYU is making by integrating Kindoo. This was a product unknown to the Commission and any of the disabled community members we spoke with, thus we did not have any recommendations regarding it. We are glad the BYU has decided to take the suggestions of many students to implement better solutions for accessibility.
8. Alleged conflicts of interest
The Commission was created by students for students. Any student who wished to participate graciously offered their time to do so. All statements are from disabled students, alumni, and non-disabled allies. Students are the primary stakeholders and thus can help by sharing their experiences and compiling the experiences of others. We only sought out students with some form of disability, as they could tell us a first-hand account.
9. “Another statement in the report by Megan McLaws also does not acknowledge that McLaws is a commissioner with the Equal Access and Disability Rights Commission. McLaws is a commissioner with the Equal Access and Disability Rights Commission. Both Muller and McLaws are listed as members of the commission only toward the end of the report, where members signed it”
The prominent people who compiled the report are listed on the front of the website. We believe in the motto of the disability community, “Nothing About Us Without Us.” Thus, students who had the unique experience of being disabled and a student were the people we collected information from. We are glad to have disabled students in charge of a commission about disabled students. See #8 for further information.
10. “Muller said the commission’s research is tailored after truth commissions, which she said involves collecting statements from people and then making recommendations for change based on those statements.”
The Commission was not formed by an official mandate, but as stated on our website, we have modeled our findings off the methods of a truth commission, including gathering statements, listening to stories, analyzing these stories to extract pertinent recommendations, and being transparent in giving our report to all 3,000+ faculty and all administrators at BYU. More information on truth commissions can be found at the International Center for Transitional Justice at https://www.ictj.org/gallery-items/truth-commissions
11. “However, [Carrie Jenkins] said the commission is not a governmental or otherwise official entity, and although BYU appreciates much of the feedback expressed by the students, ‘the information appears to have been gathered through an approach that was likely biased.’”
Yes we are students, not a governmental organization. Our “biased” approach in only gathering statements from disabled students enables the BYU community to understand how disabled students actually feel and what improvements they would recommend. Asking able-bodied students what it is like to be disabled is ineffective and inaccurate. Because disabled students were collecting the statements, students felt comfortable being open in their experiences, unlike a survey or meeting where the UAC or a non-disabled individual was conducting the statement-taking. As we are students, we make many mistakes and we use the knowledge gained from BYU classes to the best of our ability. We are glad to have disabled students in charge of a commission that compiles real experiences of disabled students.
12. “The University Accessibility Website includes downloadable accessibility maps of every building on campus, showing where accessible bathrooms, doors, drinking fountains, ramps, elevators and emergency evacuation chairs are located”
True, but incomplete. These accessibility maps are very difficult to use and were not intended for student use. The maps are PDF blueprint maps of campus, and are difficult to understand. To our knowledge, they are not screen readable and have limited visibility for those with sight disabilities. The maps have a key code which you must master before you can interpret them quickly. They were only meant to be used for marking specific features while in the building so they could then be digitized and uploaded to the BYU online map and the BYU app. They were never meant to be the final product, only a step in the process.
The process of mapping the buildings on paper has taken years because the UAC has largely put this project on the back burner and offered little support except printing the paper. Students have worked collaboratively with different BYU organizations to inform them of the need for mapping. We are thankful for the students that continued to tediously map each floor of each building, dedicating countless time and effort. This has taken hundreds of hours and was done by students, for students. This project was presented to President Worthen, President Scharman, other administrators, and the UAC in 2016. The project was well received, and it was assumed that administration saw the vital need for the project and would assign faculty, staff and students to complete it. Unfortunately, no outside help, support, or money we know of was given leaving the passionate students to map alone. Administrators and staff have repeatedly avoided the task of completing this project, labeling it as unimportant, and, by association, labeling the needs of disabled students as unimportant. Without many students continuing the project on their own time, BYU would be much farther behind and likely would not have the degree of detail on accessible building features that they now have.
A separate issue is that, because students have mapped these buildings, many data points have been found to be unreliable. Student volunteers have been primarily able-bodied individuals and, not surprisingly, are not experts on the ADA laws or accessibility issues. For instance, bathrooms that have no accessible stall have been accidentally marked as accessible and so on, thus compromising the data. Other students have remapped some discrepancies, but not all.
Features such as vending machine locations and their contents have already been published online. However, through many meetings since 2015, BYU administration has continually ignored these vital maps instead of publishing them in a usable format that would greatly benefit students with disabilities. Again students have taken responsibility and students in the geospatial lab are currently leading and uploading data to the BYU online map. We hope BYU will digitize these maps on the BYU app and website so that disabled students can find accessible bathrooms as quickly as hungry students can find sandwiches.
13. Truth Commissions overview: “However, in a 2007 article on truth commissions published in the International Studies Perspectives journal, scholar Eric Brahm writes that while there is a growing interest in examining what long-term impact truth commissions have on society, ‘our understanding has been hampered by a number of empirical problems.’”
Clarifying this misleading statement from the Universe article: “Specifically, he writes, most truth commissions focus on a small biased subsample of cases and rely on anecdotal evidence.”
This is an incorrect summary of Brahm’s points in the article. He describes that most academic studies focus on a “small biased subsample” of truth commissions. He notes that the research on truth commissions is still lacking depth, not that truth commissions themselves are biased or lack depth. From the abstract: “Specifically, most studies (meaning studies on truth commissions, not truth commissions themselves) focus on a small biased subsample of cases, rely on anecdotal evidence and normative conviction, and fail to follow the truth commission’s legacy beyond its immediate reception.” Brahm’s statement here is correct. Because of the unique circumstances and mandates of each individual commission, they are hard to define, and thus, hard to study.
Some Discrepancies: Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm is a renowned scholar in the area of transitional justice and truth commissions. Brahm has studied truth commissions for a long time and thus can accurately acknowledge both the limitations and strengths of a commission. We invite everyone to read the full article, which was intended to describe the drawbacks of truth commissions. The problems and biases do not always come from the commission methodology, but from the outside influences of human rights abusers and government politics exerted on the commission.
In the article, Brahm discusses how truth commissions as a whole can be considered a success. The flaws in truth commissions are a result of governments limiting the scope of the commission and ignoring the recommendations. The flaws are due to corruption in the government, not the commission’s methods. Thus, the full effectiveness of the Equal Access Commission lies in the hands of BYU itself. Will they attempt to ignore the recommendations or limit the commission’s scope? We encourage BYU to give a full-faith effort in responding to the recommendations rather than ignoring and covering up the problems revealed by the commission.
For example: “Truth commissions are often viewed as a success simply by virtue of completing their work. In itself, this is no small feat. Bolivia and the Philippines, for example, closed down early, having been either stifled by lack of funds or the commissioners having resigned in disgust at the lack of cooperation they were receiving. Even if the commission completes its investigation, the final report is then put in the hands of the government. Although it has become much less common as truth commissions have attracted more attention, examples such as Haiti and Uganda’s CIVHR illustrate that there is no guarantee the report will be given a wide release. At the same time, even where reports have been suppressed, it still may be seen as a success in that the commission’s mere existence focuses domestic and international attention on the cause of human rights (Hayner 2001)” (Brahm, E., 2007)
Brahm is also of the opinion that a truth commission will only be impactful if they produce recommendations (Brahm, p.21). We have provided recommendations.
As multiple members of the commission have studied Erik Brahm’s work and the work of 40 other truth commissions, they sought to not make the same mistakes as other truth commissions. Namely,
1. A truth commission’s final report sometimes only goes to high levels of an organization, where those few individuals hide or confiscate the information. We instead made our final report completely transparent and sent it to all stakeholders.
2. Truth commissions sometimes do not provide specific recommendations. We solved this by specifying persons involved, making a timeline where possible, and giving other details to make recommendations more feasible to implement.
3. Commissions are sometimes funded or influenced by organizations who do not want to be implicated in the violations and thus, truth is squandered. For example, in the South African truth commission, an entire page describing the president’s role in a bombing was redacted. We solved this problem by not affiliating ourselves with any particular organization and not receiving any funding. Our only focus was on collecting statements and creating recommendations from the experiences.
Brahm argues truth commissions may not be as effective as prosecution and trials. As we are not prosecuting and have no intention to do so, a truth commission was a suitable alternative. “Truth commissions, in this view, are largely toothless. Generally, the more truth commission powers resemble courts, the more favorably they are viewed by this school of thought. However, the time limit built into the truth commission mandate generally prevents them from being completely thorough in their investigations. In addition, despite official status, truth commissions often face restricted access to evidence. They also have no enforcement powers to see their will done.” (Brahm, p.22)
“At the aggregate, truth commissions may generate resentment and insecurity. For victims, lack of punishment may seem a travesty of justice and for perpetrators the proceedings may be threatening to reputations and social position, thereby leading both sides potentially to extraconstitutional tactics in support of their interests.” (Brahm, p. 23)
We did not promise any of the individuals giving statements that anything punishment or reparations would be enforced. Despite BYU’s apparent lack of action on the Commission’s recommendations, we are not aware of any students who feel that there has been a “travesty of justice.”
“Truth commissions as dangerous” (Brahm, p. 23). Our Commission did not involve any murder or mass atrocities and thus could present information without fear of retaliation.
As an interesting side note, BYU professors and students are currently creating a cross-national time-series approach to truth commissions, filling in a multimedia approach as Brahn suggested 13 years ago (on page 24). Several students on the commission knew about this project and helped with the research, compiling best and worst practices and single handedly collecting 1,000+ data points from 20 different truth commissions. Thus they saw what weaknesses commissions can have and knew the ways commissions have most often succeeded. Although truth commissions in corrupt countries are very much flawed, their methods used to listen to victims are not necessarily flawed as well.
“Of the case studies and comparative work that do exist, the vast majority is concentrated on a small subset of the over two dozen truth commissions we have seen around the world. A cross-national time-series approach can fill a significant void, therefore, by exploring whether the truth commission model in general helps countries make a decisive break with the past in areas such as democratic practice and human rights protection. Quantitative analysis is also useful in that it allows one to isolate truth commission effects by controlling for other variables likely to have an influence on the outcomes of interest as well as antecedent conditions that may produce both the commission and the dependent variable.” (p. 24).
14. We are glad the Universe has attempted to consult a credible source of academia. We offer more articles on truth commissions, including more recent articles from Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm, and encourage anyone interested to read them. You can also look into BYU’s own work on truth commissions and finding best and worst practices by compiling the first database in the world dedicated to analyzing truth commissions to give recommendations for best practice to future commissions. This project, headed by Professor Natalie Romeri-Lewis, has compiled thousands of data points and is currently sending best practices to Columbia as they continue their commission that started collecting statements in November 2018.
Chapman, A. R., & Ball, P. (2001). The truth of truth commissions: comparative lessons from Haiti, South Africa, and Guatemala. Hum. Rts. Q., 23, 1.
Cobián, R. A., & Reátegui, F. (2009). Toward systemic social transformation: Truth commissions and development. Transitional justice and development: Making connections, 158-159.
Dancy, G., Kim, H., & Wiebelhaus-Brahm, E. (2010). The turn to truth: Trends in truth commission experimentation. Journal of Human Rights, 9(1), 45-64.
Hayner, P. B. (1996). Commissioning the truth: Further research questions. Third World Quarterly, 17(1), 19-30.
Hayner, P. B. (2010). Unspeakable Truth 2e: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions. Routledge. Chicago.
Nesiah, V. (2006). Truth commissions and gender: Principles, policies, and procedures. International Center for Transitional Justice, 18.
Olsen, T. D., Payne, L. A., Reiter, A. G., & Wiebelhaus-Brahm, E. (2010). When truth commissions improve human rights. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 4(3), 457-476.
Quinn, J. R., & Freeman, M. (2003). Lesson Learned: Practical Lessons Gleaned from Inside the Truth Commissions of Guatemala and South Africa. Hum. Rts. Q., 25, 1117.
Silove, D., Zwi, A. B., & Le Touze, D. (2006). Do truth commissions heal? The East Timor experience. The Lancet, 367(9518), 1222-1224.
Wiebelhaus-Brahm, E. (2009). What is a truth commission and why does it matter?. Peace and Conflict Review, 3(2), 1-14.
Wiebelhaus-Brahm, E. (2010). Truth commissions and transitional societies: The impact on human rights and democracy. Routledge.
ANALYSIS ON THE SLC ARTICLE:
Brigham Young University is exempt from the ADA.
False. BYU is under jurisdiction of the ADA. Section 504 and the ADA work together to provide access. Section 504 ties to the ADA act and thus BYU is under its jurisdiction as well, exempting Title III of the ADA, which prevents discrimination from businesses and public entities. Read BYU’s policy here.
Parking at BYU and Kendra’s complete story from the article.
Mostly True, BYU has many accessible stalls. At this time, we are currently compiling the exact number of stalls. This number is not listed on their website. There are a very limited number of Van-accessible stalls. Most stalls are filled in fall and winter semesters. Read the complete and transparent story here. This story is not to prove lack of stalls but lack of communication concerning how to get access to them.
True, but there is much more to the story than listed in the Salt Lake Tribune. Disabled students have seen the need to fill the gap of unequal access and have stepped up themselves. Students have created maps for accessible features such as accessible bathrooms, walkways, elevators, ramps, and drinking fountains. These have been completed on blueprint maps in the hope that they would be put on the online maps and BYU App. Unfortunately progress has been slow as students have been the only contributors in gathering the vital information. Now all buildings on BYU campus have been mapped, but administrators are still hesitant to give this freely done resource to students. Learn more here.
Megan McLaws statement
Mostly true. Megan, a student with a hearing loss was denied accommodations without explanation. She did not say the specific words in the article though. Read her exact words here.
The Kimball tower only has one accessible bathroom.
Mostly true. Four years ago, the only bathroom that was ADA accessible was in the mock up hospital in the basement of the Kimball. In 2019 more accessible restrooms have been made. There are 2, one on the first floor, which is not ADA compliant because it uses more than 5 lbs of force to open the metal door, rendering it useless to many. The other is on the 11th floor and is ADA accessible.
“Too often we find a door has been broken, and we have not received a report”
True. The Commission hopes that both parties can be held responsible for making the community more accessible. Disabled students can do their parts, but many universities also retain responsibility by checking accessible features themselves.
“The Center is tucked away for privacy”
True. We wish students who want that privacy to keep it. Our biggest recommendation would be to make sure that students know where the center is, and can receive the adequate accommodations they need. Unfortunately, privacy can lead to exclusion, there should not be a stigma around getting accommodations. Many issues arise from students not knowing where to seek help and many students have experienced alienation and isolation, even from other disabled students. We wish the center to be easily accessible to everyone, even freshman who may not know how to access BYU’s resources. Where the Center is located should be advertised and become inclusive for all. When privacy is toted to far as an justify inaccessibility, it can lead to inequality.
“Administrators have met with the members to hear their concerns. They have referred the recommendations to BYU’s Disability Standards Compliance Committee for evaluation.she said administrators have met with the members to hear their concerns. They have referred the recommendations to BYU’s Disability Standards Compliance Committee for evaluation.”
Mostly True. The University Accessibility Center did meet once with us to go over with a lawyer the proper method for submitting complaints to the university. We did not go over any recommendations or research. We have already gathered the experiences of students and provided this resource to BYU. We have emailed all documents to stakeholders. Any other administration has yet to respond or accept our invitations to meet. We have not heard from the Disability Standards Compliance Committee despite emailing our recommendations a month ago. We have emailed all 4,000+ faculty and administrators at the university our report in April and welcome them to work together with disabled students to create more inclusion.
Article in the Religious Section
The Commission disagrees with the article’s placement in the religious section on the news. Surprising to many the Church of Jesus Christ has been supportive of our efforts and is taking steps to insure their buildings and procedures are inclusive for those with disabilities. We hope BYU will follow suit in listening to disabled voices.