By M.A. Rahman
Published: February 13th, 2019
Members of one of Brooklyn College’s oldest clubs on campus, the Student Organization For Every Disability United For Progress (SOFEDUP) slams the BC Public Safety office accusing them of being consistently undependable and offering vague instructions for disabled students in need.
“Whenever they have a fire drill, we’re supposed to do it as if there’s a [actual] fire,” said the current treasurer of SOFEDUP, Doreen Brittingham in a matter-of-fact tone. “But they don’t. They don’t take out those [wheelchair] lifts to take someone out, so students don’t actually experience how it’s supposed to go when it happens.”
Founded in 1968 by Friedrich L. Francis, a survivor of a car accident that rendered him permanently disabled as a double amputee, the club was created according to the group’s pamphlets to “advocate for equal accessibility, accommodations, and rights for students with disabilities in Brooklyn College (CUNY).”
Brittingham supervises most of the club’s social and activist engagements with its members comprising of students and former students of differing backgrounds and disabled circumstances. Beginning the first of what would become many meetings to come throughout this semester, Brittingham beaconed interested students to the club’s room in Roosevelt Hall.
Stating her intent, she sought to reconnect motivated students interested in SOFEDUP’s cause in trying to give disabled BC students an equal footing across campus despite their physical or mental circumstances.
Located next to the school’s Disabilities Center, the room’s seemingly convenient location has taken its toll in terms of quality, raising questions amongst members of what at bare minimum an adequate club room should look like. The SOFEDUP office/clubroom is a windowless office cubicle-like enclosure that, despite its numerous uplifting decorations that cover the room’s walls, many of the aforementioned attributes still struck some prospective members of the club away.
“I have had a student say, ‘Nuh-uh’ to walking in the room when she came by even though she wanted to join,” Brittingham lamented, highlighting the serious lack of ventilation in the room, the effects of which were noticeable upon looking among the dozen members that crammed themselves to attend the meeting.
Brittingham iterates some of the problems she and other students observed on campus, sometimes attributing them to Brooklyn College ’s infrastructural state of disrepair. These included routinely closed restrooms that resulted in disabled students having to negotiate with the staircases to find another, students discovering that the designated disabled restrooms were not ‘clean-up friendly,’ staircase lifts like the one in Whitehead being found inoperable, push-button doors in Roosevelt rendered inoperable and so forth.
Perhaps the most harrowing of these tales came from SOFEDUP’s current President, Stacy Ann de Souza, a transfer student that was largely responsible for the club’s revival in 2014 following a brief hiatus.
De Souza, who suffers from an extreme case of impaired vision and requires a cane, says she endured an emotional ordeal that left her in an emotional breakdown afterward.
During a fire drill, de Souza found herself in the West End Building when the alarm went off. She was promptly instructed to stand in a designated spot in the building (the wait room) while masses of students walked out of the front entrance.
She was to wait until Campus Public Safety officers would arrive to escort her. The escort never came.
Having realized this in what now seemed to be a totally desolate space and unable to independently navigate, de Souza began to tremble having felt neglected and forgotten of, descending into tears and anxiety.
“They probably think that Public Safety is great and that everything is great on campus,” de Souza deduces before criticizing the Public Safety Office for measuring the state of the campus as satisfactory based on ‘the most basic standard.’
Stating that rather than rationalizing their own position, Public Safety should go out of their way and reach out to SOFEDUP to discuss their concerns.
“They probably tell themselves, “who cares what the students think, we met the most basic standards,” de Souza said lambasting the Public Safety Office.
Underscoring her point, she divulges into an example that disabled students caught in the middle of a fire drill in any other building especially if they are above or below the first level, are just as likely to find themselves at a risk befalling the same level of confusion and alarm for themselves, per the current evacuation procedures listed on the BC website.
For these students, they are instructed to move to and wait by an elevator until they to are escorted, of which reportedly also has not happened at times, leaving disabled persons alone as everyone has left.
Despite these past grievances, de Souza reiterates that she has made a commitment of improving the quality of standard for her peers and has made multiple attempts to get hold of and meet with someone from the BC Public Safety Office to discuss how they can improve current safety procedures but to little avail.
We’ve reached out to the BC Public Safety office for a comment on this matter, receiving none yet.
Brittingham reassures that SOFEDUP’s impact on campus are visible even if they have gone unnoticed by most students today. One such accomplishment she mentions was the successful push for a bus stop to be added on Bedford Avenue.
“SOFEDUP got that there in 2012,” Brittingham said smiling gleefully as she touted the groups most recent accomplishments proudly.
Some members of SOFEDUP tended to differ in tone regarding the administration’s handling of disabled issues, suggesting that despite the issues they continue to face they still hold to some extent an appreciate for the resources and patronage they see on campus.
According to Isabelle Sanchez, a transfer student, Secretary at SOFEDUP, and has partial deafness and vision impairment, she does not have any issues with BC or any one of its departments, rather she pleased with the resources available to her.
“In my other school you couldn’t get a tape recorder and JAWS (an audio-text program used to assist blind/deaf persons) is always available here, so long as those two are around, I’m good,” Isabelle said candidly.
Likewise, Mitchel Ki, the club’s newest member, another transfer student shared the same sentiment saying that having come from a college where he felt disabled students were noticed far less, he came away feeling pleased to find an active club with a seemingly responsive school administration presiding over.
However, from Brittingham’s perspective Brooklyn College still has a long way before adequately accommodate disabled students to the extent that she feels satisfied in terms of commuting, academic accommodations, and so forth, saying “it’s not even a money problem and they know it…right now we just need someone to talk to.”