Campus & community, Campus news

Chancellor Christ on improving the equity of experience for community members with disabilities

By Public Affairs

Chancellor Carol Christ issued the following message on Friday:

To the Berkeley campus community:

Over the last few months, I have been sharing information about the values and objectives at the heart of our efforts to increase the diversity of our university community in the broadest sense and in every form. In these messages to campus, I have described efforts underway for the undergraduate , staff and faculty populations, and we will soon provide details about a new committee that will focus on enhancing diversity in our graduate student and postdoctoral communities.

Today, I want to focus on the wide array of new campus positions, programs and initiatives that support the needs and interests of members of our community with disabilities. As part of our commitment to diversity, equity of experience and inclusion, we must ensure that everyone can fully participate in and contribute to the university experience.In spring 2017, we established a broadly representative Disability Strategy Team (DST) and asked it to provide recommendations in support of these values and objectives. Among its recommendations were to:

  • hire an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)/504 coordinator;

  • establish a centralized disability access funding source;

  • identify a proctored exam center for students requiring academic accommodations;

  • provide professional development programs to train our faculty and staff on how to improve the climate of inclusion and equity around disability issues; and

  • develop a strategic planning process for campus that addresses more than our legal obligations but thinks broadly about barriers to access and the creation of a climate of inclusion and equity around disability.

I am pleased to report on our progress.

A new leader

Last October, we hired an outstanding professional, Ella Callow, to serve as our Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)/Section 504 coordinator. An alum of our own UC Berkeley Law School, Ella has had a long history of advocacy as an attorney for the rights of disabled people before joining us. Ella is open about having disabilities herself, and coming from the Bay Area American Indian/Alaskan Native community, her understanding of disability in the United States is as an identity that is deeply intersectional with race, class, gender, sexuality, and educational privilege.Under her leadership, we have consolidated staff from multiple units on campus to create the new Office of Disability Access and Compliance that is now under the purview of our vice chancellor for administration. Ella is responsible for coordinating and leading efforts to ensure that the campus is in full compliance with the ADA, other applicable disability-related laws and all university policies related to disability. This new office is an excellent and needed addition to our existing services, including the Disabled Students’ Program (DSP) and Disability Management Services, which is run by University Health Services for the benefit of students, staff and faculty.

The new Office of Disability Access and Compliance will enable us to go above and beyond legal requirements and help determine how we can, to the fullest possible extent, make manifest our values of inclusion and access and honor our history as the home of the student-led Independent Living Movement . Ella and her team are now working to design and implement programs that range from physical accessibility and emergency/disaster evacuation to building disability cultural competencies into our sexual violence/sexual assault response systems. This new office has gotten off to a fast start and is making excellent progress.

Planning for the future

The diversity of our community is our strength. We are now preparing to begin work on a new ADA transition plan and self-evaluation. The transition plan will identify existing architectural barriers to physical access on our campus and prioritize their removal, while the self-evaluation will focus on the removal of programmatic accessibility barriers, including those in our communications vehicles and on our websites.

Alongside the development of an ADA transition plan and self-evaluation, we are moving to immediately address key issues that include the development of fully accessible and secure websites for programs and services we have identified as high impact, clarifying the process students use when filing a disability discrimination grievance and implementing a new policy to ensure that inaccessible spaces are not used for public events.

I also plan to form a new Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Disability and Accessibility Planning (CACDAP), to be led by our ADA compliance officer, Ella Callow. The advisory council will be tasked with assisting with the development of a new disability and accessibility strategic plan, assessing the need for new resources and staff and developing outreach and educational efforts to help improve accountability and response, and envisioning how we can celebrate disability culture on this campus.

Supporting staff and faculty

When it comes to professional development programs for staff and faculty with disabilities, our objective is no less than a campus that is fully inclusive, welcoming and accessible for people with disabilities. We will continue to develop and provide a suite of resources for training, workshops and professional development to help us meet that goal. Our Human Resources office has completed an assessment of training rooms in University Hall to ensure they are fully accessible, inclusive and welcoming. In addition, staff in that office are making sure all of their online training content is screen reader-compatible and captioned.

I have also asked the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion and the Vice Chancellor for Administration to partner with the Office of Communications and Public Affairs to develop an ongoing communications strategy that encourages, engages, educates and empowers the university community to embrace the work of inclusion and accessibility as it relates to people with disabilities, and that recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of the many disabled faculty and staff on our campus.

We also want to recognize and support the excellent work of the Alliance for Disabled Access (ADA) , which had previously been named the Staff Alliance for Disabled Access (SADA). This staff organization’s 68 active members have been involved in three major projects:

  • University of California Convention for Disabled Access (UCCDA): The staff alliance had organized a UC systemwide conference for ADA compliance officers, disabled accommodations staff and representatives from faculty and staff groups. The conference was a first, important step toward the creation of a system-wide advocacy group that will pursue solutions for ADA/disability issues on the UC campuses.

  • UC Berkeley Employment Open House for Job Seekers with Disabilities: Working with Human Resources’ talent acquisition team and the Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity (AA/EEO) office, as well as with the Division of Equity and Inclusion Division’s Staff Diversity Initiatives office, this event provides training for those who want to use our employment software and showcases open on- and off-campus positions at UC Berkeley for members of the community with disabilities.

  • SADA Disability Concierge Service: The organization is developing a web-based service that will connect campus staff with disabilities to personnel who can help address their needs and provide access to the appropriate resources and services.

In this context, we also want to mention our appreciation for the work that the independent Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights (FCDR) has done in bringing to the administration’s attention the many issues facing disabled faculty, staff, and students. Leadership in the FCDR worked on many of the initiatives that are described in this memo and we look forward to continuing our work with them on making the campus more inclusive and welcoming.

Supporting students

Our Disabled Students Program (DSP) has grown to include more than 3,000 students, and I’m happy to report that we’ve made important strides during the past year to better support them.  Examples of this progress include:

  • additional staffing hired to lower the DSP specialist-to-student ratios and the upcoming completion of some additional hires;

  • preparations to hire a housing accommodation specialist who will report to DSP, but work in partnership with our campus housing office;

  • a DSP specialist hired to specifically address, through new policies and procedures, the unique needs of graduate students with disabilities;

  • a DSP specialist hired with experience in providing support services to students on the autism spectrum. She has created and implemented programming to support both the social and academic success of Berkeley students;

  • a new room in the residence halls for student support programs, including our DSP federally-funded TRiO Program and programs for students on the autism spectrum. This work, done in partnership with Student Affairs, includes a new room with a low stimulation area for students on the autism spectrum;

  • a dedicated DSP career specialist who, in partnership with the Career Center, provides services geared toward enhancing the career development of students with disabilities and assisting them with obtaining employment after graduation;

  • plans by DSP and University Health Services to strengthen collaborative relationships between the two units and to improve health services for students with disabilities; and

  • a faculty workshop series and ongoing outreach by DSP to provide faculty with tools to implement classroom accommodations for students.

For the student population, we recognize the pressing need for space. First, we must have a dedicated proctored exam space that can provide the fullest possible range of accommodations and ensure that our academic programs provide equitable access and support for our students with disabilities. Space in the Hearst Gym has been designated as DSP proctored exam space, expanding our ability to administer final examinations.

Similarly, the Disabled Student Leaders Coalition (DSLC) has made clear that students with disabilities need a fully accessible social-cultural space on campus. The Space Assignments and Capital Improvements Committee (SACI) has formed a subcommittee to analyze the DSLC proposal for creating a disability community and cultural center on campus and to recommend next steps toward that goal. The subcommittee includes one graduate and one undergraduate student, a DSP staff member, a staff member from the Disability Access and Compliance Office, a professor of anthropology/disability studies and SACI staff and faculty representatives. A majority of these subcommittee members are themselves people with disabilities who understand and value the unique history and legacy of Berkeley student activism and accomplishment. I expect this new advisory subcommittee to develop with the ADA compliance officer recommendations to guide a compreh ensive plan that supports student needs and interests.

The road ahead

I will be the first to acknowledge that we have created for ourselves a set of ambitious goals and objectives to expand, support and sustain the diversity of our campus community. Yet, I also know Berkeley has a long legacy of rising to meet challenges of this sort, particularly when the status quo is at odds with our most important values and commitments. I look forward to providing you with updates as we progress down the path to a university that truly reflects who we are, what we believe in and all that we stand for.


Carol Christ