Current Staff General Content Student Life Yulissa Chavez

The Discrepancies of School Funding and Disabilities in Higher Education

Written by Yulissa Chavez. 

Image by Yulissa Chavez. 

Not every building on the University of Texas at Austin campus has braille.

Although UT Austin promotes a message of inclusivity and diversity, often the actions of the university do not reflect that same message, much to frustration of students with a disability. The Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) facility provides resources to students with disabilities. For example, there are available testing systems based on a student’s individual accommodations, instructional material in an accessible format based on the student’s need, scholarships for vocational rehabilitation state services, course load reduction, and priority registration for students with disabilities. 

However, those services are not enough. Syed Rizbye, a third-year student at UT majoring in Government and Philosophy, is just one of forty blind students in the UT Austin community that receives services for his disability. He is also one of thousands of students that receives services from SSD.

“The SSD does their best, but they are not given enough to work with. We have over 60,000 students here and yet there is only a handful of employees at the SSD office,” Rizbye said. “A pretty big issue in the blind community is access to instructional materials.”

“The SSD does their best, but they are not given enough to work with. We have over 60,000 students here and yet there is only a handful of employees at the SSD office,” Rizbye says. “A pretty big issue in the blind community is access to instructional materials.”

To illustrate, the SSD has one person converting all the textbooks for blind students into braille.

“We thought that, as blind individuals… [when] material went from hard-copy to electronic, it would make things much more accessible,” said Rizybe.

“The issue is…  when that transition happened in the education sector, blindness was not a factor that was considered, even though through 508 and 509 compliancy under the Americans and Disabilities Act and other regulations, some technology manufacturers did not follow those regulations.”

In order to receive their textbooks and other instructional materials in an accessible manner, students with visual disabilities are forced to wait on the book listings, and after doing so, they have to rely on the SSD to convert it in braille. Often this process can take several weeks.

“In order to receive their textbooks and other instructional materials in an accessible manner, students with visual disabilities are forced to wait on the book listings, and after doing so, they have to rely on the SSD to convert it in braille.”

Waiting for materials in an accessible manner has proven to be an inconvenience for students that have professors with a sense of urgency for assignments and readings.

“Sometimes, old fashion techniques work. We don’t have readers because we are supposed to be as independent as possible. But, sometimes, a professor will give you a reading and its due to next day or something, and you don’t have time to get it to the office to be converted or it can’t be converted fast enough, or copy is too messy, since the whole reader system has been taken out, we no longer have that option,” said Rizybe. 

“Another issue is international copyright law. For example, let’s say I wanted to study French here. If there was a French textbook that was already in braille, according to international copyright law, accessible materials cannot cross borders,” he continued.

“Sometimes, old fashion techniques work. We don’t have readers because we are supposed to be as independent as possible. But, sometimes, a professor will give you a reading and its due to next day or something, and you don’t have time to get it to the office to be converted…” 

“So that braille textbook cannot cross from France to America unless it is coming in [a] normal format and… reconverted to braille in America, which [can be] an inefficient and long process. The Marrakesh Treaty that is currently… [being] worked on would allow accessible materials to be crossed along borders. Overall, it is an institutional issue that starts with the publishers and the government.”

“Overall, it is an institutional issue that starts with the publishers and the government.”

Fortunately, the problem of inaccessibility for students with blindness is finally being addressed in the federal government. This is due to the Aim HIGH Act. The Aim HIGH Act calls for university representatives to work together with blind students, publishers and technology manufacturers. Together, the act asks them to hold a stake-holder base commission in order to create voluntary guidelines; in part, because of the lack of definition with the word “accessibility” in legislation.

Even though there is a bill that addresses the lack of accessible materials in higher education for students with visual disabilities, the prejudice that those with disabilities face in our society has not gone away by any means.

“Even though there is a bill that addresses the lack of accessible materials in higher education for students with visual disabilities, the prejudice that those with disabilities face in our society has not gone away by any means.”

We still judge people that are blind to be a burden, even helpless, and less intelligent. An unfortunate side-effect of this misconception is the 70% unemployment rate among the blind community.

“The way that society views me and people like me is always going to be less, but I am just as capable as any other student on this campus,” Rizbye said. “People try to escape from the word ‘blind’ because it is… [seen as] an ugly word. Blind is a patch on my chest.” 

“The way that society views me and people like me is always going to be less, but I am just as capable as any other student on this campus,” Rizbye said. “People try to escape from the word ‘blind’ because it is… [seen as] an ugly word. Blind is a patch on my chest.” 

Certainly, students that have visual disabilities must overcome many obstacles that are not very well known to the rest of us. This is due to the simple fact that individuals with visual disabilities are not a majority, but it is not an acceptable excuse. 

 

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