As a recent alumnus of PLNU, I was deeply disappointed to hear from friends and former professors that the Disability Resource Center (DRC) had changed its name. Throughout my time at Point Loma, I worked to help educate students and faculty on Disability Justice and Theology through conversations, club leadership, and ultimately my senior honors project. With it being less than a year since I graduated, I am still very invested in the ways that Disabled students are treated on PLNU’s campus and this was just one more reminder that there is still so much more work to do.
In the current Disability Rights movement as well as within the history of our community, language has been very important. It was disappointing to recognize that the DRC rebranded to the Education Access Center without taking into consideration what Disabled activists all over America are saying about language surrounding Disability.
The #DisabledIsNotABadWord movement is an important part of claiming who we are, especially in spaces like higher education that consistently erase that part of our identity.
Using the word Disabled with a capital D is important because it recognizes many aspects of identity. It gives space for Disabled people to find pride in their identity in the same ways that people would use “Black” or “Queer” or “Christian” as an identifier. Using the word Disabled also connects us to an amazing history, community, and culture.
The EAC changing their name and removing the word Disabled from both the name and the mission statement is not just a little thing, it is one of the many moments where Disabled people are intentionally or not told that they do not belong on PLNU’s campus.
Most importantly in this situation, though, the word Disabled holds legal meaning. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (https://www.ada.gov/) defines Disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability.” So, based on this legal definition, everyone who the EAC serves would be considered Disabled (yes, including someone with a broken leg), which is why the EAC is required to provide accommodations for them.
To change the DRC name and mission statement, and remove the word Disabled, is a subtle move distancing our school from the law they are required to follow. “Individuals in need of accommodations” as the mission statement now says, are not, by law, deserving of accommodation. Disabled people are.
Changing the name makes the EAC’s legal job and Disabled students’ legal rights significantly more unclear. Activists are making a similar argument with the word “Special Needs” and how it distances people from the community and schools from the law, and this is the same thing that the EAC has done here.
The EAC has been very vocal in their mission statement about their hope for Disabled people to be “self-advocates,” and yet they continue to remind us that they are not listening to Disabled advocates who are in the news and media and even on their own campus. Disabled people deserve a space on campus that is committed to serving them, not erasing their identity. Something needs to change.
By: Tatum Tricarico