Photo by LOLA CHASE/Golden Gate Xpress
Miwa Ikema sat outside the J. Paul Leonard Library collecting signatures to stop the May 23 removal of the Accessible Technology Commons, a room she regularly visits since she is blind and conducts research in Braille.
She graduated SF State in 2016 at age 65 with a degree in philosophy, but still spends the majority of her day in the ATC using the Braille screen reader and text-to-speech program known as JAWS, Job Access With Speech. The area also features accessible furniture and quiet study
In order to save her workspace, Ikema co-wrote a petition with fellow ATC user and psychology student Janet Philpott, 72. Together, over a period of four weeks, they collected 1,538 signatures against the closure. Ikema also posted letters around campus in protest.
According to Eugene Chelberg, associate vice president for the Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, the ATC closure makes way for a “universal design,” which will make accessible technologies like JAWS and a text enlarger called ZoomText available in many different
areas of the library.
“When it comes to creating access, we really want the entire University to be accessible, as opposed to having access limited to certain areas,” Chelberg said.
Students like Ikema will now be able to check out portable Braille displays that can be attached to a computer. Currently, Braille services are only available in the ATC.
Despite the wider reach of the services around the library, Ikema and other users still have concerns about losing the familiar area.
“Blind students need everything at the same place all the time,” she said.
Separate work stations located in the Research and Study Commons will have a dictation program called Dragon NaturallySpeaking and noise-canceling headphones will be available to checkout in the Research Commons.
“One of the pieces of feedback we’ve gotten back from students is that they have gone to use the Accessible Technology Commons for a quiet study space,” Chelberg said. “That’s not what it was originally designed for, but in acknowledging that that is a need, we’re buying the noise-canceling headphones for folks to check out so that they can still create that environment.”
Ikema said for Disability Programs and Resource Center users, it’s not about the freedom of choosing where to study, but having access to a private room where headphones don’t have to be used.
“The DPRC, I think they are trying to emphasize universal design. It’s not effective to people who have special needs,” she said. “People have different disability needs. Students need a really empty room … they get nervous if somebody is around them, and then they cannot concentrate on their studies.”
Philpott said she goes to the public library because she finds the outer commons of the Leonard Library unsuitable for learning.
For example, she said the trash cans next to the disability computers cause a lot of distracting foot traffic. The advantage of having a space like the ATC, she said, is that users get both a computer and a workspace where they can spread out their materials for a more productive workflow.
“I get to complete my work here. I get to zero in,” Philpott said. “But when I’m in the outer areas, I procrastinate. It might have something to do with anxiety, being around other people or what not. In [the ATC] you are in your own space, all the energy is yours.”
Asian American studies major Dabareh Jones said she feels like she has to compensate in her daily life because of how she learns. She said she values the ATC because of the in-person help provided by staff and peers.
“This structure here is a safe place where you can be supported by other students who have learning differences,” Jones said.
Chelberg said a future community space for current ATC users would be an initiative led by student organizations rather than a DPRC-maintained service. The reason the ATC was a historically separate entity, according to Chelberg, was because adaptive and assistive technologies took up a lot of computer memory and required costly licenses in the past. With changes in technology and wireless
networks, these services have become affordable enough to spread throughout the Library.
“I also appreciate the value of students from various identity groups wanting to come together,” Chelberg said. “That’s not the purpose of what the Accessible Technology Commons was created for, so if there is a desire for there to be a space for disabled students to come together, then I think that is a separate question and something that we can talk about.”
Jones said there was a lack of transparent and timely communication with ATC users when it came to the closure.
“The way they [communicated] was very sneaky,” she said. “It was very underhanded, and I feel like they had their own agenda and finally, when people started complaining about it, then they started making notices.”
Philpott said the DPRC did send out a survey at the beginning of the semester asking students for their thoughts on the closure. She started her protest then, but felt like the decision had already been made despite the survey, she said.
“A survey shouldn’t have been enough,” Jones said. “They should have [come] down here to talk to us. There should be another level of connection. You don’t just throw one survey at us because we have learning differences.”
Jones said she was also angered by the fact no one physically came to the ATC to have a sit-down with users to discuss the closure.
“It’s about the human connection, not the things, not the stuff, not the machines, the computers or whatever,” Philpott said. “It’s the human piece, the humanism we are bringing to this and how everybody has individual disabilities and that’s what we are trying to address more so than the universality.”
Chelberg said the future of the current ATC space is still being discussed.
“Space on campus is always hard to come by,” Chelberg said. “So there are some programs that are looking at repurposing the space for other student use, but that has not been finalized yet.”
Correction: In the print version of Tuesday, May 14, 2019 (Vol. 109, Issue 15) print issue, Dabareh Jones’ name was misspelled. Xpress regrets this error. (Tuesday, May 14, 2019/12:34 a.m.)