Perspectives

Welcoming ALL Gifts

Monday, March 14, 2016

by Scott Marshall, associate director, Disability Resource Center 

Some of our campuses have policies that say our digital resources must be accessible to people with disabilities. Widespread lack of enforcement of these policies is not only unwelcoming, it might be insulting. At a minimum, it’s oppressive.

At the University of Minnesota, we believe that our learning, our research, and our outreach are richer experiences when there are diverse voices “in the room.” We believe our students receive a more rich education when numerous perspectives inform their learning, when diversity is present.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that when people are able to contribute their gifts in any situation - particularly, in pursuit of their learning, work, or research - those people feel an increased sense of belonging and are more likely to thrive.

So the question is, what happens when we systematically deny people the opportunity to give their gifts? What happens when one student can't interact with their classroom peers because of an inaccessible course site? What happens when that student doesn’t have access to the “optional materials” because the only materials made to be accessible are the “required” ones? What happens when a student doubts their choice of major but can't easily explore other colleges or other options because the resources on a given site aren’t accessible to them?

I suspect at this point that some of you are wondering, “What would it cost to make all of those materials accessible? I can't imagine it’s cheap…and we’re already busy!”

I’d like to suggest that the financial cost of accessibility is not the first cost we should consider. Our first consideration should be the cost of a person not being able to contribute their gifts to their community. This is the cost of NOT making our substantial resources accessible to everyone so that we all might benefit from the possibility of their gifts.

What if that blind student held the cure for cancer? What if that Deaf person’s calling wasn’t their (first) chosen major? The answers to these questions have potentially enormous societal costs but I’m more interested in what happens to a person over time when they are told time and time again, we’re not interested in what you have to offer. You’re not welcome here. You don’t belong.

Yes, it’s going to cost money. But I invite you to not go down the rabbit hole of scarcity. Instead, consider the possibilities from a place of abundance: We already have everything we need to make our campuses more accessible, more welcoming, a place where more people can belong. The hard work is prioritizing this work to align with our institutional values of inclusion, equity, and diversity. The cost of misalignment? Continued institutional oppression, an incomplete community, and worse: Individuals who don’t have the opportunity to live into their potential.

Comments

University Affiliation: 
Manager, Computer Accommodations Program

Isn’t it ironic that the university is quick to implement wheelchair ramps, automatic door openers, large print high-contrast and braille signage but once you are in the building/room, all bets are off. What must students who are blind think when they come to a campus where the ATMs and the street crossing signals talk to them but their course materials are not always accessible. I brought my gift, now what do you want me to do with it?

University Affiliation: 
Academic Technology Consultant, ATSS

Beautifully put, Scott. I love the perspective of "bringing our gifts." This is a reminder that all of us need to (re)commit *our* gifts to creating the best, most inclusive environment possible in order to nurture *everyone's* gifts. The costs of doing this are small compared to the costs of not doing it.

Perspectives

"Perspectives" stories are the views and opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the University of Minnesota.