Faculty Spotlight: Is Sonoma State disability friendly?

Sonoma State University’s most recent recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award, Lauren Morimoto, has had severe structural problems with her knees, drastically affecting her mobility from a young age. 

As she’s gotten older, her knee issues have worsened often leaving her unable to walk without the assistance of two canes,she said. 

Every day, the kinesiology professor experiences extreme pain in every step, making stairs and long walks nearly impossible - yet these are the obstacles she has had to adapt to everyday, just to do her job at Sonoma State. 

“Basically, the campus is a sticky mess,” said Morimoto. “I’m always terrified I’m going to eat it. It happened just last week.” 

Morimoto mentioned the uneven pavement outside of Salazar Hall as an example of a place she fears walking on campus. 

However, Morimoto’s story is just one of the hundreds to be heard here on campus and throughout the nation. 

According to Disability Service for Students, as of 2016, nearly 700 students (7.5 percent) of Sonoma State’s 9,300 have identified themselves as a student with a disability. 

In 2013, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics at the University of New Hampshire estimated that of the 6,429,431 students ages 3-21 who received special education services in the fall of 2012, more than 300,000 of whom were college age.

It’s important to note that mobility related issues only account for 0.7 percent of the DSS population. 

Much of the DSS population requires disability services for learning or audio-visual disabilities, which is not regularly provided on campus.

“I keep hearing things about how Sonoma State might not be [disability friendly], and honestly, I can see how that might be true,” sociology major and DSS volunteer Janice An said. 

An noted that Sonoma State should make more of an effort in student events to provide for students with hearing disabilities.

DSS Director Brent Boyer gave some insight on the duties of DSS and what they do to help their students.

“Even though we would like to see an environment that is accessible to everyone, there will be times when accommodations are going to be necessary,” Boyer said. “So the university has designated DSS as the office responsible for receiving, reviewing, authorizing and providing specialized support services, and assisting faculty, staff and managers in providing equal access with reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities.”

For Morimoto, her disability can even affect her schedule. 

“When other people see a broken elevator as an inconvenience, I see it as whether or not I’m able to go to this meeting,” said Morimoto. 

She made it clear she wanted to take this opportunity to bring awareness to a topic she feels is often sidelined. 

Morimoto said she understands that Sonoma State has met a lot of the requirements for disabled accommodations, she just thinks there should be mor proactivity beyond the bare minimum. 

“Every time I struggle to get into Salazar or the Student Store, it’s just a reminder that ‘Oh we didn’t build this for you’,” Morimoto said. “I want to start a broader conversation about disability.”