Difference Makers a sounding board for the disabled
In order to get to her classes in the 23rd Street Building, Amar Sharif traverses a steep ramp on the rear side of the building that serves as an accessible entrance for students with disabilities. The psychology major is just one member of the Difference Makers, a year-old club that strives to promote awareness for the adversity faced by disabled students at Baruch.
“Getting into the campus is extremely difficult,” said Sharif, a junior who is one of nearly 10,000 students with disabilities in the CUNY system. “On the 23rd Street Building the accessible entrance is all the way on the other side of the building next to the garbage. It just makes you feel as if ‘since I’m a student with a disability, I am seen as garbage’.”
The Difference Makers club was originally started by Zachary Triano in 2014 in order to address a multitude of issues faced by disabled students at Baruch.
After Triano graduated, he was succeeded by current president, Margaret Ling.
In a general interest meeting Ling headed last week, students expressed concerns about the extremely heavy fire doors that are nearly impossible for wheelchair users to open on their own, floor layouts that are hard to navigate for visually impaired students, and handicap entrances that are difficult for some students to access.
“From the very point that we [students with disabilities] walk into this building it is a disadvantage,” said Ling, who served as vice president of the club at its inception. “It is a cold environment that doesn’t have the same warmth as the other [CUNY] campuses. A lot of times, the only way we distinguish ourselves with our professors if it is not a visible disability is a sheet of paper that we have that says we need special accommodations.”
Among the quality of life solutions suggested by club members were the installation of a stair lift to aid students with mobility issues, a button located near all fire safety doors for students who cannot open them without assistance, and audio cues in hallways for visually impaired students who cannot easily locate their classroom.
Several members of the Difference Makers are also active within the CUNY Coalition for Students With Disabilities (CCSD), and most recently voiced their grievances at the fifth USG senate meeting on Oct. 6.
“I know a person in a wheelchair who could not get inside the doors downstairs,” said Lolita Kravchenko, a finance and investment banking major who serves as vice president of the Difference Makers.
“He would wait, like, 15-20 minutes for somebody to open the door for him. People do not know that there are others with disabilities among us,” Kravchenko said.
As difficult as it is to implement improved facilities for students who are disabled, the Difference Makers have already seen small but noticeable changes thanks to their efforts of advocating to school administrators.
“We recently had a conversation with the dean where we talked to him about all of the stuff that has been going on,” said Kravchenko. “There were no elevator signs that said ‘give this space to disabled people’ but recently last week I actually saw a sign there. It was something that we wanted and it is a great thing that it’s already accomplished.”
Despite its flaws, Baruch still seems to be making strides in terms of accessibility for disabled students compared to other CUNY campuses.
“Personally, I think Baruch is a much better school for people with disabilities,” said Irina Singal, a psychology major. “I went to Brooklyn College and if you think this [Baruch] is bad, you should have gone there. When it comes to elevators, all the students would push ahead of me and go in front of me and not let me inside and you literally have to stand there and wait even though you deserve the elevator more than they do.”
With around 15 members currently involved in the club, the Difference Makers have created a tight-knit community of students united by common issues.
“We have our own community now on campus where we have shared experiences that we might not be able to speak about with other students,” said Ling, a management specialization and entrepreneurship major. “We’re comfortable enough with each other so we are our own little family when we are here on campus and that great relationship transcends outside of the classroom and outside of Baruch.”
According to Ling, the Difference Makers hope to have a sensitivity class implemented for students, staff, and faculty to decrease the instances of disability shaming.
Looking towards the future, the club hopes to bring in guest speakers to club meetings, organize group outings, and ultimately breed acceptance and knowledge about Baruch’s disabled community.
“It’s the 21st century, so I feel that students with disabilities should be accepted more,” said Singal.
“There was an article about some girl who just got into a sorority and it just so happened she had a disability. Everybody was cheering for that like it’s a big thing but in this day and age it should not be that big of a thing. Everyone should just be accepted.”
The Difference Makers usually meet Thursdays during club hours in NVC 4-214. Those wishing to contribute to the Difference Makers’ cause can do so by making a donation at the accounting unit on the second floor.