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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Students Present on Experiences of Latino Students with Disabilities

On May 3, the Psychology and Latino Leadership Opportunity Program held the first of its student presentations. The event was hosted by associate professor of Psychology Ester Shapiro in Room 205 on the Second Floor of the McCormack Building at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Students Fernando Andino Valdes and Nelson Oliva presented their research on “Photovoice as Participatory Action Research: Exploring Experiences of Latino Students with Disabilities” with the use of Photovoice, a software through which anyone can take photos of themselves and write brief statements in context to those photos.

Valdes, who is bound to a wheelchair, investigated the university’s disability services via the Quinn Administration building elevators. The photos in his portion of the presentation showed that the push buttons were far too high for someone in a wheelchair, like Valdes, to reach. When he brought this to the attention of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s ADA Compliance Officer, they said that the elevators in Quinn “are up to code standards.”

In his presentation, Valdes explains, “It is frustrating sometimes when I cannot get into the elevator because people made the choice to not take the stairs. I do not have the choice and I need to get on.”

During this project, Valdes touched on the importance of Career Services, saying, “[It] is a gateway to success on campus.” However, he added, “It is barred by a heavy glass door and no push buttons to open them.”

Valdes continued, “To add insult to injury, there are metal squares where push buttons could be outside and in, not to mention I’m mocked by a green button that reads to ‘push to exit’ but does nothing.”

To Valdes, the ADA staff may be unwilling to acknowledge the institutional limitations disabled students face daily on college campus. However, Valdes realizes that in comparison to some local schools, UMass Boston isn’t too bad at accommodating disabled students.

“As a matter of fact I went to UMass Amherst recently for a research conference, and I was blown away by how terrible it was there,” Valdes said.

Oliva shared his experiences as a disabled Latino student as well, saying, “I’m filled with so much stress and anxiety that it makes me feel that I am not in control of anything. I feel like there’s not enough time to do anything.”

Oliva, whose thyroid was removed due to hyperactivity, continuing, “I kept falling asleep a lot everywhere and it got to the point that I had to have surgery because it was affecting my productivity and it was becoming a safety concern.”

Regarding the level of inclusion in the classroom, Oliva stated, “Sometimes I feel that when I try to say something, no one hears me. I feel that my opinions or what I have to say are not that important when I’m with a group of students. It makes me feel invisible.”

Both students noted that the college graduate rate for Latinos with a disability is 50.47 percent, and the dropout rate is 30.42 percent. Valdes and Oliva believe the presence of academic stress, the need for peers being more inclusive toward them, and the number of institutional barriers all play a role in creating and maintaining those percentages.

Fortunately, they did come up with a few recommendations on how to combat this, such as:

  1. “Teachers ensuring every student’s voice is heard in group discussions, and putting safeguards in place to see it is done.”

  2. “[Other] students making an effort to hear what all group members have to contribute and to have practice active listening.” 
  3. “Push buttons on all heavy doors, or leave all heavy doors open with door stoppers. If a fire breaks out the door stopper can be easily removed.”
  4. “The installation of a stick with a string or holding rack in Quinn Administration elevators so “height challenged” people can reach the buttons. Elevators at Tufts Dental School have this system in place.”
  5. “Post signs asking elevator users to be considerate and mindful of those who need to get on first before those who ride as a luxury can. [These signs can] be made as a friendly reminder, and posted above elevator buttons, so they see it before entering.” Neither Valdes nor Oliva want to be combative nor exclude anyone from using the elevator, but they think “there are people who need to ride the elevator more than others, and [these people are] often ignored because people rush at the chance to enjoy the convenience.”
  6. “Have the Ross Center do a user survey [every] semester of all the students who use disability services, similar to how professors are required to survey students towards the end of the semester.”

The Latino Leadership Opportunity Program, in conjunction with the Department of Psychology and through the use of Photovoice, strives to forge Latino students of all walks of life into productive leaders.
However, at this time, it remains unknown if Valdes and Oliva’s recommendations for improved disability services on campus will be sent to Dr. Lori Corcoran, the ADA Officer at UMass Boston.