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UCLA Center for Accessible Education

Disability Justice

University of California students, staff, and faculty have fought diligently for disability justice and inclusion. Disability justice work is defined by increasing equitable access, often times through centering the voices of historically marginalized groups, such as disabled women, people of color, and LGBTQ community members. Inclusive practices increase access through community building, academic and housing accommodations, and implementation of Universal Design. Student activists at the UC have left lasting impacts on our world, from curb cuts and accessible transportation, to increasing classroom and housing accommodations. These changes were in direct response to inaccessible conditions, such as infrastructure, polices, and barriers in the learning environment. Though accessibility is increasing, disability continues to be stigmatized both inside and outside of educational institutions. Ableism continues to be systemic and pervasive. At UCLA it is everyone’s responsibility to break down preconceived notions and disabling conditions. The Center for Accessible Education (CAE) is but one place at UCLA engaging in disability justice work.

UCLA has a diverse student body, staff, and faculty, including people with a large range of disabilities. These disabilities include both visible and invisible disabilities, as well as physical, psychological, and neurological disabilities. For some, disability is not a defining part of their identity. For others, disability is a core part of their identity and a point of pride. Disability identity can be fluid and how students, staff, and community members choose to identify may shift depending on the environment, classroom, or community they participate in.

Person-first versus Identity-first Language

We recognize that the disability community is not monolithic. People may prefer person-first language, identity-first language, or may not identify with disability at all. Person-first language seeks to name the individual’s humanity and personhood first, ie: “person with a disability” instead of “disabled person”. Identity-first language underscores the idea that disability identity is something to be proud of, reclaiming disability and health conditions as nothing to be ashamed of. Examples of identity-first language might include: “disabled women”, “autistic student”, “disabled student”, etc. At the CAE, we respect how people choose to identify, recognizing everyone’s journey or experience with disability is unique.

Disability History

The 504 Sit-in of 1977 is one point in history that forever changed the social and political landscape, as it made disability-based discrimination illegal. Protests in multiple cities were organized, pushing for the signing of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, unchanged. Once such protest included a grueling occupation of a federal building in San Francisco, California. Through activist networks such as alliances with the Black Panther Party, Glide Memorial Church, and the Butterfly Brigade, more than 150 people with disabilities and their supporters occupied 50 United Nations Plaza for twenty-eight days straight, many without support devices or medication. Additional supporters held a vigil outdoors. People slept on floors, communicated out windows by way of sign language, and formed enduring relationships. After pushback and many proposed amendments, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare, Joseph Califano, signed the 504 regulations unchanged, banning discrimination against disabled Americans and forever altering both the legislation and lives of Americans. This work paved the way for additional legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Many current and former University of California students were involved in both organizing and participating in protest, advocacy, and activism such as the 504 Sit-in and the Capital Crawl. Activists such as Judith Heumann and Ed Roberts made changes, both small and large, paving pathways of access for all. Today, The Center for Independent Living, created by Roberts, continues, supporting people with disabilities in California and leading disability awareness across the globe.

Some disability-centered work at UCLA today includes: the CAE Expert Series on Disability, listening sessions for students with disabilities, the UC Student Association Disability Ad Hoc Committee, the UCLA Committee on Disability, and various student-centered programs affiliated with the CAE. Centering the voices of disabled community members and students is a vital part of increasing access at UCLA. For more ways to engage with the current cultural shift, follow us @CAEUCLA on Instagram.