The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday June 27th

Column: Where is the accountability to disabled students?

Laura Saavedra Forero, a freshman neuroscience major, poses for a portrait outside of UNC's Student Union on Oct. 26. "My life shouldn't be put at greater risk due to the University's sheer disregard for its disabled students," Saavedra said.
Buy Photos Laura Saavedra Forero, a freshman neuroscience major, poses for a portrait outside of UNC's Student Union on Oct. 26. "My life shouldn't be put at greater risk due to the University's sheer disregard for its disabled students," Saavedra said.

On Tuesday, it came to light that Vice Chancellor Terry Magnuson plagiarized text in a grant application. Just two days later, it was announced that he will resign from his position. Accountability was swift, with a formal campuswide notice sent to University community members. 

All this, for a single grant application submitted over a year ago. Naturally, academic misconduct must be taken seriously by any university, especially by someone who oversees research initiatives. But why doesn’t UNC take the health and safety of its students as seriously?

On Feb. 26, Laura Saavedra Forero, a first-year student who uses a wheelchair, was trapped in her dorm for more than 36 hours when the only elevator in the building broke. She only got out when she did because emergency medical services evacuated her. Paramedics carried her down three flights of stairs in an experience she described as “traumatic” and “dehumanizing" on Instagram. 

This isn’t the first time she has flagged issues with her housing. When the fire alarm goes off, she is simply stuck, according to an interview with The News & Observer. 

So, where was that swift accountability when Saavedra Forero was stranded in her room? According to a post on her Instagram story, the elevator broke again on Thursday, and she wasn’t even notified when it was fixed.

Carolina Housing has still failed to find her an accessible first-floor room. UNC’s emergency guidelines say wheelchair users should simply “stay in place” in an emergency, such as a fire. But there doesn’t seem to be any sign that campus housing is safe for wheelchair users.

A statement published by WRAL said that while UNC has indicated it cannot speak on Saavedra Forero's situation, “students affected by elevator outages in residence halls can work with Carolina Housing for individualized accommodations.”

Let’s get some things straight. First, Carolina Housing should be working to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place, fix elevators in a timely manner and ensure that accessible first-floor dorms are available to the students who need them. 

Second, Carolina Housing should just do these things. It should not be the responsibility of first-year students — or any student — to train or manage Carolina Housing’s staff. If Carolina Housing’s leadership is incapable of providing safe housing for disabled students, they should follow Magnuson’s example and resign.

Third, these issues will never be solved if UNC continues to address accessibility as “individualized accommodations” rather than a community-oriented policy. Disabled students should not just be expected, we should be seen as integral members of the community that need to be prioritized and considered in all planning and policy-making.

UNC has shown that when it actually cares about something, it can produce swift, deliberate change that holds officials accountable. But when it stalls on accessibility, racial justice initiatives, financial aid or paying reasonable wages to all of its workers, it is clear that UNC does not care. 

It is time for UNC to put action behind its promises and make this campus actually accessible for all of its students.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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