A recent call to the Harvard Disability Van Service went something like this:
“What time do the disability vans start operating on weekends?”
“So are there any other options before noon?”
“No, that’s the only service we offer.”
This conversation is typical of what disabled students have been hearing from the Disability Van Service, whose website states that it “is designed for persons who, because of physical impairment or medical condition, find it extremely difficult or impossible to use the regular fully accessible shuttle bus.” Disabled students can make appointments to have the vans pick them up when they need to get across campus—but appointments are available only at certain times.
The University’s shuttle service has been the subject of much controversy over the past two years, especially when--along with hot breakfast—it became one of the most reviled cuts in the administration’s $77 million budget slashes in 2009. However, one of the stories that has gone unnoticed in the controversy over shuttle schedules is the situation that disabled students face. Currently, many disabled students have no way of traveling between the Quad and the River on weekend mornings, and the University needs to do more to accommodate their transportation needs.
For most students, the cut in shuttle service on weekend mornings meant a 15-minute walk to Harvard Yard, as opposed to a five-minute shuttle ride. But for disabled students, this 15-minute walk is often difficult, if not impossible to make. Disabled students who need to get to campus for weekend meetings, religious services, or study sessions often can’t do so until the shuttles start running at noon. This obviously isn’t an equitable solution to the transportation dilemma posed by Quad life. Quadlings shouldn’t be excluded from participating in groups that meet by the River on weekend mornings, but that’s exactly what the absence of a disability shuttle at those times means for handicapped students living in the Quad.
The situation isn’t made better by the limited options for disability transport at night. After 7 p.m., the disability shuttle becomes the night shuttle, meaning that it is no longer easily accessible to handicapped students who need it for transportation. Students can call to arrange for the shuttle to pick them up after 7 p.m., but some have reported waiting for the van for over 45 minutes. It’s important for the College to ensure that disabled students have the same opportunities as others to study late in Lamont, accept nighttime jobs, meet with friends on the river, and participate in extracurricular activities, many of which meet late on weeknights. By making transport between the Quad and the River inconvenient or impossible at certain times, the College isn’t fulfilling its obligation to accommodate students with disabilities.
One of the most disconcerting elements of administrative and student responses to the disability van situation is the lack of attention it receives. While students protested the loss of hot breakfast and freezes in faculty pay—budget slashes that affected all students or professors across the board—the transportation options for disabled students were often ignored. If students are going to protest for different budget allocations, we should first be demanding that money be put into the disability van service so that handicapped students have the same opportunity as others to travel between the river and the Quad at all times. Hot breakfast can go, but the disability vans cannot if we intend to call ourselves an equal-opportunity university.
Peter M. Bozzo ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Eliot House.