By V.G. Garlisi
On the morning of July 26, 1990, on the south lawn of the White House, President George H. W. Bush amended and signed one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in the last quarter of a century.
Today, the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates its 25th anniversary with renewed vigor and support, but have all its benefits reached this college?
There are mixed feelings among students and staffers at this college’s office of disability support services. Some have seen the ADA’s benefit as the campus grows more accepting and supportive of DSS students. Others say, this college needs serious improvement to make walkways and buildings accessible.
Theology sophomore Robert “Charlie” Shivley said the needs of the DSS community are not being met. Some campus areas are nearly impossible to navigate in a wheelchair, said Shivley and wife Sherrie in an interview.
“There is no consideration for handicapped people; the school could care less,” said Charlie Shivley, who is blind, on dialysis and in a wheelchair after losing his foot to diabetes. “They care more about the money than the student.”
He and his wife are furious after fighting with college officials for nearly four years to correct sidewalks and areas such as the ramps around Moody Learning Center.
“I’d like to put them in a wheelchair for a day and let them get around campus,” Sherrie Shivley said. “And maybe then, someone will figure it out.”
Her husband takes core courses here so he can attend Wayland Baptist University for a theology degree.
Charlie Shivley said note-takers are no longer offered since recent DSS budget cuts. He and his wife say this college only bandages the existing problems, never really fixing them.
Others, who remember the pre-ADA years, say this college — particularly the attitude on campus — has improved.
Dr. Thomas Hoy, retired executive vice president, became coordinator of disability support services in 1983. For 11 years as coordinator he witnessed the ADA’s impact on this college.
“Back in the late ’70s, early ’80s there were some staff members who didn’t think students with disabilities should be a part of regular classrooms,” Hoy said. “Some were reluctant to comply with the steps they had to take such as handing in lecture notes in order to be copied or giving students extra time on tests.”
“The signing of the ADA brought much-needed attention and strength to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” Hoy said.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination against children with disabilities. The law gives all children the right to an equal education.
Hoy said with the act’s signing, agencies such as the Texas Rehabilitation Commission offered scholarships and grant money for the college to provide services and equipment such as note-takers for the hearing- and vision-impaired, wheelchair-accessible entryways, recorded classroom lectures and tutors.
“There were times … as coordinator that I saw a record number of students with disabilities attending the college,” Hoy said. “The ADA gave students with disabilities the confidence to further their education, because of the equal opportunity they were afforded.”
Josue Estrada, 24, graduated from this college last semester with an associate degree in psychology. He said he is grateful for the impact the ADA had on his success.
“When I started here in 2011, I knew about the ADA, but I wasn’t fully aware of how it all worked,” he said. “It has allowed me to achieve goals that I never thought were possible.”
Born with cerebral palsy, Estrada was confined to a wheelchair before he had a chance to walk. Estrada said the ADA helped him break out of his shell and access services such as the DSS computer lab and the supportive staff.
Estrada attends Texas A&M University-San Antonio to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.
Although the ADA has been helpful at this college, Estrada saw a lack of communication for new students with disabilities and unsafe spots for those in a wheelchair.
“Since we are such a small population, there’s not really that connection of communication,” he said. “The students need to know what services are offered to them, and if they’re aware of those they can achieve much more.”
Maria Gomez, a crisis and personal counselor at this college, began as a DSS counselor under Hoy in August 1990. She became DSS coordinator in 1995 after Hoy moved into the college’s administration.
“The early challenges we faced were getting faculty to understand their obligations to students with disabilities,” said Gomez, who still works with DSS students here today.
Gomez said their first charge as faculty was to understand the law and how they could better assist their students.
“We were fighting for the respect and fair treatment of the students,” Gomez said. “So anyone, regardless of disability, could not be denied their right to an education.”
Hoy and Gomez agree the ADA has brought about significant change for the campus and its DSS community. Gomez said about 30 DSS students graduate each semester. Prior to the ADA, their numbers for success were about half that.
“By the early ’90s faculty would be happy to assist a disabled student, whether it was concerning longer testing times, recorded lectures or additional material on the topics covered in class,” Hoy said.
Gomez also said the campus has become fairly cohesive toward disabled students and their educational needs. “We have come to a plateau,” she said. “The faculty now understands what they need to do as educators to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity for success at this college.”
However, there are still things Estrada said this campus must improve. “One of the top concerns for me about future students is the accessibility around campus,” Estrada said. “Although there are parts of the campus that are accessible, there are some, such as McCreless Hall and Loftin Student Center, which create obstacles for students that need to use these buildings.”
Sherrie Shivley said funding does not seem to be an issue. “We have $1.5 million set aside to remodel our president’s office, but we can’t fix the problems that plague the DSS community,” she said.
Both Hoy and Gomez see progress, but continue to push for a better tomorrow.
“I can’t ever say we will eliminate discrimination, for it is mostly attitudinal,” Hoy said. “But don’t ever say a person with disabilities can’t do something because they will prove you wrong in an instant.”
This college must go forward, not backward, in ADA compliance, he and Gomez agreed.
“The DSS community needs to maintain its sense of self and not get lost in the changes of the campus,” Gomez said. “We have gained the respect of the college community and have helped thousands of students succeed in college. The program works.”