THE THREE HARVARD students who are confined to wheelchairs and the roughly 50 other disabled students at the College face a series of academic and social disadvantages. Although the University has made it a $200,000-per-year priority to alleviate many of these disadvantages, there are some simple and relatively inexpensive steps it has not yet taken.
Last week the Undergraduate Council unanimously approved a committee report on disabled students. The committee spent an entire semester compiling the embarrassingly long list of inaccessible facilities and academic disadvantages at Harvard.
Most outrageous is that visually and hearing impaired students must pay for their own readers, exam proctors and sign language interpreters. Currently the University has no consistent policy, and some students have spent $1000 to $4000 each semester funding these aides. In focusing on restructuring some of its facilities, Harvard has overlooked its responsibility for the needs of these students, and should begin to fund these readers, proctors, and sign language interpreters.
Other relatively simple steps the University can take to improve the lives of its disabled students include establishing an effective snow clearance policy and increasing the number of curb cuts on the sidewalks.
The University's efforts at restructuring facilities, while laudable, have yet to succeed in making any of the houses completely accessible. For instance, not a single house library is accessible. And in terms of freshman housing, disabled students have access to a total of two suites in the entire Yard--in Canaday Hall. Disabled students have no access to bathrooms in Emerson or Robinson Halls, Hilles Library, and the Carpenter Center, while Memorial and Harvard Halls and Sanders Theater are totally inaccessible, as are the Widener stacks.
It is clear that no amount of stepped-up restructuring will solve all the needs of the disabled. The University's efforts, then, should be partly redirected to some significant, relatively inexpensive and currently overlooked ways of working toward equal education for disabled students in and out of the classroom.