October is designated Persons with Disabilities History and Awareness Month. In honor of the recognition and to increase public awareness on the subject, the Building a Barrier-Free Campus: University of Texas at Arlington’s History of Accessibility exhibit is currently on tour in Austin. The exhibit was jointly curated in 2016 by Dr. Sarah Rose, Associate Professor of History and UTA’s Disability Studies Director and Trevor Engel, a 2016 UTA graduate and Disability Studies Advisor. The tour began as a display at the Texas State Capitol for the first two weeks in October and is now hosted at UT Austin’s Perry-Casteñeda Library. It also will be displayed at the Lex Frieden Employment Awards in Austin hosted by Governor Greg Abbott, where over 200 community members will be in attendance.
The tour of the exhibit was made possible by its many supporters, including the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, UT Austin Libraries, UT Austin’s Services for Students with Disabilities and UT Austin’s Texas Center for Disability Studies. Ron Lucey, Executive Director for the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities said, “UT Arlington reminds us that an accessible and inclusive higher education system was not always a given and the progress students with disabilities enjoy today is due in large measure to the advocates of past decades.”
During a round table event to kick-off the exhibit’s arrival at UT Austin, leaders discussed the campus’ contrasting histories of accessibility, adapted sports and disability rights, as well as their broader impacts in Texas. Chase Bearden, director of advocacy and community organizing for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities was quoted in the Daily Texan as saying, “These are the people that changed our lives and I think if you don’t know your history, you don’t know where you’re heading.”
Nationally, college students with disabilities are 40% less likely than able-bodied peers to graduate. Ensuring students with disabilities have the proper support system, facilities and access is crucial to their success. During the panel discussion Rose stressed that while building a “barrier-free” campus is a continual work-in-progress, she is proud that UT Arlington has led the way in welcoming students with disabilities in the UT System, Texas, and the Southwest since 1970, well before federal mandates.
Rose plans to continue the momentum gained by touring the exhibit. She indicated that the UT Arlington Studies Minor, the Public History Masters Program and UT Arlington Libraries have several collaborative projects associated with UT Arlington’s award-winning Texas Disability History Collection. Rose said, “With this exhibit tour, our ongoing efforts to preserve Texas disability history and our other projects in the near future, we hope to showcase how investing in accessibility can make college—and ultimately, employment—far more feasible for people with disabilities.”
Building a Barrier-Free Campus will be on display at UT Austin through October 23, 2017 and on display at the Lex Frieden Employment Awards Ceremony in Austin on October 24. To learn more about the UT Arlington Disability Studies Minor or the Disability Studies digital exhibit visit http://disabilitystudies.uta.edu/ .