UCLA refuses to protect students with disabilities

Members of UCLA’s Disabled Student Union demonstrate outside Royce Hall. (UCLA DSU)

Nestled against the hills of West Los Angeles, the nation’s top public university produces a steady stream of Nobel laureates, media icons, world-class scholars – and more recently, COVID-19[female[feminine infections. As students learn online for the first two weeks of term, UCLA athletics is opening its stadiums to thousands of spectators. Administrators plan a return to in-person teaching for Jan. 31 amid a record number of cases in Los Angeles, increase in hospitalizationsand outcry from disability advocates. We urge UCLA to immediately and permanently implement remote learning options that allow students to access their education both in-person and remotely..

Since August, the Disabled Students Association has openly advocated for remote learning to be made available to any student who may need it. Even after remote learning last year, the UCLA administration continued to tell student advocates that these options would take too much time and too much money to implement. Even if it were true – and the temporary current remote access plans indicate otherwise – such factors do not excuse an inaccessible education that violates our civil rights. Time and financial constraints only disappear when our non-disabled peers are reached. As of this publication, our petition collected nearly 30,000 signatures in favor of access to distance learning. Despite this staggering show of support, UCLA refuses to implement remote learning options, continuing to harm and ignore their community.

On October 8, 2021, we organized the largest UC-wide disability-specific movement since the Sit-in ADA/504. Hundreds of people rallied on Zoom and outside Royce Hall to demand blended learning options. The protest garnered support from students, faculty, the TA UAW-2865 union and even well-known disability rights activists Jim LeBrecht, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Leroy F. Moore Jr. Despite this staggering show of support, the ‘UCLA refuses to implement remote learning options.

Filmmaker and disability rights activist Jim LeBrecht speaks via video conference at the Disabled Students Union protest on October 8, 2021.
Filmmaker Jim LeBrecht speaks from a distance during the DSU protest outside Royce Hall. (UCLA DSU)

The UCLA administration cited academic freedom as a reason for not being able to mandate faculty to record their classes and offer multiple learning modalities. But the faculty code of conduct also lists “discrimination, including harassment, against a student…on the grounds of…physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related or genetic characteristics) , genetic information (including family medical history)” and “arbitrary denial of access to education” as unacceptable conduct. Additionally, according to UCLA Faculty Code of Conductprofessors have the right to “free inquiry and the exchange of ideas”, “and to “the enjoyment of the freedom of expression protected by the Constitution”. These rights do not preclude the university from requiring faculty to provide remote access to course materials in order to fully include students with disabilities.. In fact, UCLA does not follow its own plans to move to hybrid teaching when the university meets its own “severe” level criteria that justifies fully distance learning.

We are not asking for remote instruction only. It is important to note that some students, especially those in performance-based academic programs, benefit from in-person learning. Thus, blended learning is the only way to truly meet the needs of as many students, staff and faculty as possible. We advocate giving students and employees the ability and option in their education (which students pay for) to attend classes remotely if they deem it unsafe to attend in person. Forcing in-person instruction also dramatically increases the likelihood of a campus services worker coming into contact with an infected person.

It is high time that universities like UCLA invest in dual modes of learning. We are stuck in a cycle of premature reopening and closing when power surges inevitably occur. Blended learning for all courses ends this cycle by allowing a seamless transition in all circumstances. The teacher tested positive but can still teach? They just switch to Zoom. Half the class is sick? They can follow online while others stay in class. Preparing for the worst is not surrender; it is planned resilience.

Blended learning would allow people at high risk to learn or teach without putting themselves or others at risk. The administration can argue that the adaptation system meets this need. In reality, many students and faculty cannot access housing due to medical discrimination, prohibitive costs, or administrative burden. Additionally, students and workers often go undiagnosed or have conditions that are not recognized as high risk by the CDC. Others are caregivers of a high-risk family, but UCLA explicitly prohibits caregiver accommodation; this prevents student parents and instructors from making the best decisions for their health. Commuter students who do not have access to a car can learn from home if they do not feel safe on public transport. No one should have to choose between their safety and their education or career. Remote access is the only way to ensure that we can learn and work in safe conditions.

Students wearing face masks take part in the protest.  One with glasses is holding a sign saying
Students hold signs questioning the university administration during a protest (UCLA DSU)

Public health experts and disability rights advocates have repeatedly warned that the pandemic has worsened in part due to a premature “return to normal”. Studies show that non-pharmacological measures – such as distance learning options – are the most effective for containment. Vaccines are useful for reduce spreading and keeping people out of hospitals and morgues; they or they are not be used as the main intervention, especially in collective settings such as universities. This is especially true in light of the diminishing effectiveness of vaccine and antibody treatment against the omicron variant, the wide variation in vaccination dates among the Bruins, and the lack of plans for those vaccinated who are tested. positive. Good public health decisions are made to be proactive, not retroactive.

Due to the woefully inadequate and unscientific COVID guidelines implemented by UCLA last fall, more than 1,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the September 13 move-in date of the fall term. This is only a few hundred fewer cases than the number of cases reported between March 2020 and September 2021. In the first week of January alone, UCLA saw more than 1,200 confirmed cases. This is an unacceptable number of cases. We also don’t know how many actual cases there have been, due to UCLA’s history of insufficient testing and poorly organized and inconsistent data on community case numbers. As of January 27, UCLA’s Covid-19 dashboard was 4 days behind case reports. The university also changed its testing policy to exempt students from weekly testing for 90 days after infection; they did not require an antigen test in place of a PCR for these cases. This policy may have made sense for earlier variants, but the omicron variant evades immunity to such a degree that reinfection is possible. Without accurate and up-to-date information, our community cannot make informed decisions about our health.

What we To do know is that UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center is running out of inpatient and intensive care beds, and students are already reporting there’s no more room in the hospital’s isolation housing. UCLA. Forty thousand people descending on a community with staggering case numbers are already irresponsible. Add to that poorly ventilated lecture halls, college parties, cramped dorms, inadequate testing protocols and unenforced masking policies – we have a real disaster.

UCLA has now updated its policy to require all students and faculty to be tested once a week, given the increased transmissibility of the new omicron variant, but this is still insufficient. We have no idea how many of those 1,400 students and workers were forced to drop out of classes, drop out of their study program, be fired from their jobs, become temporarily or permanently disabled or even killed because of UCLA’s negligence. We have no idea how many workers in the surrounding community became infected after serving UCLA students and faculty. These case numbers also do not include data on infected family members who were unable to avoid exposure due to UCLA’s refusal to allow professors to conduct classes remotely to ensure their family’s safety.

How many people will UCLA maim or kill to maintain a false sense of normalcy?

In order to prevent future outbreaks, protect the disability community, and provide a more sustainable model for our education, UCLA should immediately and permanently implement remote access options.

We ask UCLA: What’s the point of being #1 if you don’t keep us safe?

Norma A. Roth