Petition to change location of student disability services gets 2,800 signatures

As conversations with University of Iowa administrators continue, students with disabilities keep up advocacy for a more accessible campus.

One student organization, UI Students for Disability Advocacy & Awareness, launched a petition in October with the hope of moving Student Disability Services’ location by 2020. For 30 years, Student Disability Services has been housed in Burge Residence Hall.

As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the petition had garnered 2,884 signatures — 2,651 of which from undergraduate and graduate students, and 233 from faculty, staff, and alumni.

UI Media Relations Director Anne Bassett in a statement iterated the importance of accessibility on campus.

“A group convened by Vice President for Student Life and interim Chief Diversity Officer Melissa Shivers and Director of Campus Planning Joe Bilotta that includes representatives from Student Disability Services, Student Disability Advocates, UISG, and GPSG is engaged in very early conversations about the potential co-location of Student Disability Services, University Counseling Service, and Student Health, and Student Wellness,” Bassett said in the statement.

The university realizes the importance of an equitable campus, she said.

“The group looks forward to continuing to explore more ways to fulfill the university’s core mission of helping students be as successful as possible,” she said.

UI Students for Disability Advocacy & Awareness President Andrea Courtney said that although the petition was supposed to close at 5 p.m. Tuesday, it will remain open until the final count can be presented in conjunction with a UI Student Government and Graduate/Professional Student Government resolution in support of moving the office. 

RELATED: Students push for change of Disabilities’ Services location 

Courtney said she has been moved by optimistic responses from community members in regard to the petition and said the concerns raised by students are equally important.

“I think overall, the reaction has been pretty positive, but I do think one main question people have asked is ‘Where will [Disability Services] go and is there a new location selected?’ ” she said. “It surprises me because people think we have any power with that — but with that said, we’ll definitely advocate for where we think the location would be best for students overall.”

In an interview with The Daily Iowan on Oct. 30, Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers said she shares students’ concerns about the location of Disability Services.

“I was continuing to hear from students that there were a lot of concerns about its location, and quite frankly, those are concerns that I also share,” Shivers said. “And because of that, I created two sorts of workgroups.”

Shivers said her “dream” is to have a centralized location for the University Counseling Service, Student Health & Wellness, and Student Disability Services.

“The challenge is, where’s it going to be? Is it going to be a new building?” Shivers said. “And we know that’s very challenging to do, and if it’s not going to be a new building, would it be a current existing space that we could repurpose for those three units?”

Looking forward, Courtney said she hopes students will be involved in conversations about Disability Services’ new location.

Disability Advocacy & Awareness President-elect Kaydee Ecker shared the enthusiasm about the petition’s results so far but said there is still work to be done.

“We recently updated the petition to reflect where we want it to go and what we would like to happen,” Ecker said. “Our goal, ultimately, is to have a plan put in place to establish a timeline for the office’s move.”

Ecker said some of the top priorities for the new office is a central location, ease of access, and expansion of services for students.

“Generally, we want to make sure that meetings are taking place between … staff and students so that when all of the specific choices are being handled everything is being brought to the table and every viewpoint is being taken into consideration,” Ecker said. “We don’t want any decisions being made without all of the options being explored.”

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