Civil rights attorney and ADA educator Paul Grossman presented the importance of disability rights and protections in academia. Grossman spoke to Cal Poly and Cuesta College faculty on Feb. 14 which was organized by the disability departments at each college.
Grossman has been involved in civil rights work for 50 years and has spoken to different college campuses, according to Cuesta’s Disabled Student Programs & Services Specialist Lisa Curtis, who introduced Grossman.
Grossman’s presentation focused on different components of disability rights laws and how they apply to educational settings. He structured his presentation around different types of ADA law and how professors can take measures to be more accessible through keeping disability in mind.
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was established in July 1990 and sets the premises for equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Grossman explained that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 came first.
This law states, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability… shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination,” according to the US Department of Labor website.
In addition, Grossman detailed other acts in place that offer protections, such as the Fair Housing Act and Title One of the ADA.
“I hate to say it, but almost everybody eventually in life becomes an individual with a disability, and how you respect that law for your students may also determine how that law is respected when you may need the protection of that law,” Grossman said, speaking to the law’s and acts’ importance.
After explaining what each of the different protections function as, Grossman walked through the processes that students can file claims of discrimination.
“Under Section 504 is any student may file a complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and there is no cost whatsoever,” Grossman said. “Unlike an employment discrimination law, people do not need to file first with Office for Civil Rights, they can go straight into federal court without stopping at any other agency.”
Grossman also provided different scenarios for discrimination and what students can do in those situations.
While explaining what the different laws were, he said that some laws were outdated, setting the tone for a message on adaptability and providing more opportunities for equal opportunity.
“I just want to point out that [Section 504] is 50 years old,” Grossman said. “So if your institution is still saying, ‘oh, we’ll fix this or that,’ you know, you’ve had 50 years to do it. Time is more than up.”
Throughout his webinar, Grossman referenced personal teaching experiences with regard to ADA laws, inciting participants to think about their own teaching methods. He explained that for his exams, he offers different options in order to “validly reflect the student’s aptitude.” Additionally, Grossman shared that he gave time extensions when needed, though implementing a word count.
“The more we make our learning opportunities accessible to every student, the less we will need to be concerned about compliance with Section 504,” Grossman said.
Cuesta Music Appreciation Professor Marcy Irving says she learned more about disability awareness and how to keep an open mind to different disabilities, such as anxiety.
“I hadn’t really thought of [it]. I had no idea that multiple choice tests were difficult,” Irving said. “I think I’m gonna be thinking more about what would help students.”
Following the presentation, Grossman opened the meeting up to a question and answer session. During this time, participants asked questions of clarification regarding ADA law and scenarios. Cal Poly Mathematics Professor, Camille O’Bryant spoke to the examples that Grossman gave in his presentation of different applications of ADA law.
“Your examples just remind me of how systemic all different forms of oppression are in our educational systems, right, like these assumptions of expectation, but what is or isn’t essential? What is or isn’t a standard?” O’Bryant said.
In his responses, Grossman clarified ADA law and gave participants more to think about in regards to educational practices for accessibility.
“The reason that I advocate and almost all disability law folks advocate for universal design is we have learned in accommodating students with disabilities, better ways to teach,” Grossman said. “The question is, well, why the heck aren’t we universalizing those better ways to teach?”
For disability resources at Cal Poly, the Disability Resource Center (DRC) is open in Building 124.