Chancellor Christ lauds FCDR for work on disability access and equity

Chancellor Christ recently wrote an open letter to campus on “improving the equity of experience for community members with disabilities.” In it, she cites the work of FCDR leadership:

“In this context, we also want to mention our appreciation for the work that the independent Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights (FCDR) has done in bringing to the administration’s attention the many issues facing disabled faculty, staff, and students. Leadership in the FCDR worked on many of the initiatives that are described in this memo and we look forward to continuing our work with them on making the campus more inclusive and welcoming.”

Chancellor Christ

The leadership of the FCDR look forward in working with the Chancellor and allied organizations on future initiatives that affect disabled faculty, staff, and students — and ensuring that this is campus that is accessible to all.

UC Berkeley Academic Policy on Disabled Faculty

Many disabled faculty aren’t aware that there is actually a policy on access and accommodations on campus.

First, is the overarching University of California Office of the President Academic Policy Manual 711-0 Reasonable Accommodation for Academic Appointees with Disabilities. This covers disabled faculty at all UC campuses:

Second, is the UC Berkeley specific Academic Personnel Office policy on accommodations, Berkeley Accommodation Process for Academic Appointees with Disabilities:

What is notable about the UC Berkeley version is that there is a $1000 limit on what departments have to pay for reasonable accommodations — after $1000, the burden then shifts to the university. One might argue that $1000 is still a steep amount especially for smaller units, and this may lead to unconscious (or conscious) bias against hiring disabled faculty, this is one of the areas the FCDR noted in the Disability Strategic Plan.

What is also concerning about both versions is that they have language that if in the view of the campus: if there is no feasible accommodation that will enable the academic appointee to perform the essential functions of the position, the University may initiate a medical separation review (see APM – 080, Medical Separation). Chairs should seek guidance from their Deans or other higher- level administrators before discussing this option with an appointee.

FCDR will be working with campus to clarify the conditions under which this might happen and appropriate safeguards for faculty with disabilities.

Prof.. Susan Schweik reminds us that in 2014, she, Mel Chen, and Katherine Sherwood wrote to the administration concerning the medical separation issue:

December 8, 2014

To: Vice Provost Janet Broughton
From: Susan Schweik (Professor of English), Mel Chen (Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies) and Katherine Sherwood (Professor of Art Practice) 

Thank you for your invitation to comment on proposed revisions to the section of the Academic Personnel Manual that involves medical separation. This is an issue of concern for all academic employees, and it is a specific concern for us as disability studies faculty who have had occasion over a number of years to talk with our colleagues about experiences of negotiating issues of disability and illness in our workplace. 

We appreciate the work done to align this policy more clearly with ADA requirements. We applaud, for instance, the addition of “or another vacant position on campus for which the appointee is qualified” (080-0,1). At the same time, the changes raise a number of questions, and we have serious concerns about several revisions, issues that we think deserve more scrutiny and also greater clarification for UC faculty. The opportunity to review the proposed revisions has also allowed us the occasion to mull over a few things that have not been changed in the new version but that we think deserve more consideration.

The ramifications of some changes are unclear. In the new version of the policy, for instance, the Chancellor’s authority to decide medical separation can no longer be re-delegated. We wonder about the effects of this change and the thinking behind it. We wonder, too, about the change, in section 080-0, from “Medical separation will be considered only in cases where a long-term or serious disability occurs that cannot be reasonably accommodated” to “Medical separation will be considered only in cases where a disability or medical condition occurs that cannot be reasonably accommodated.” With the removal of “long-term,” do these changes narrow or broaden the university’s capacity to handle cases of chronic illness or sporadic illness or other complex temporalities of disability? We are unsure, and we request clarification. It is important to ensure that the “reasonable accommodations” mandated by law for “disability” are not put under pressure by efficiency or other management mandates. We wonder about the legal meaning of “medical condition,” which in another document, APM-015 (The Faculty Code of Conduct) is glossed parenthetically on page 5 in the context of prohibition of discrimination with the phrase “cancer-related or genetic characteristics.” In all these cases we think the changes may merit additional explanation of the rationale behind them. 

Other changes give us serious pause. We are very concerned about the fact that in one suggested revision (080-20 Notice of Intent to Separate and Notice of Action, 5), the notice to the appointee of the intention to separate will NO LONGER INCLUDE “copies of the statements of the chair and/or Dean and/or unit head and any other pertinent material considered,” as indicated by the strikeout of such text in the proposed revision. All that would be provided in the new proposed version is the reason for separation and the informing of the right to respond within 30 days. We find this a radically reduced foundation upon which an employee could build an informed and effective response.

We also have concerns about changes in category (c), “Other Academic Appointees”, under the “Notice of Intent to Separate and Notice of Action” (proposed version: 080-20[c]). We object to the removal of the right of such employees to respond in advance of, or to have any effect on, a final decision to separate by the Chancellor. The proposed version removes the ability of “other academic appointees” to respond either orally or in writing within thirty (30) calendar days, and it removes the Chancellor’s consultation of any such response before making a decision to medically separate the employee.

Finally, although they do not involve new changes but rather concern language apparently already in the earlier version, we are taking this opportunity to register our concerns about two moments in this text that were, so to speak, pre-existing conditions. The first involves the use of the phrase “with or without reasonable accommodation” (080-0 Policy, 1). “Without reasonable accommodation” strikes us as potentially in opposition to the stipulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act as we understand it. Isn’t this phrase essentially the same as “regardless of reasonable accommodation”? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say “despite reasonable accommodation” or “despite every effort to reasonably accommodate”? Logically, the phrase seems to say: “it doesn’t matter, this question of accommodation.” It also seems to externalize the decision to an administrator, leaving behind the interactive process that should determine reasonable accommodation.

Second: while the proposed changes in the section on notice do not alter response times (other than the removal of the right of “Other Academic Employees” to respond), we note the extreme difficulty in the present environment for any faculty member (with or without tenure or security of employment) who must request a hearing within only 30 days of receiving a notice of intent to medically separate, given the seriousness of the matter at hand. We find this time period to be impractically short if we understand that the very issue at hand is that of medical difficulty. Not responding within 30 days effectively waives the power of the employee to request a hearing, and it exposes the process to a final determination by the Chancellor within 90 days of the original notice of intent to medically separate (which, without the opportunity to respond to avert, we imagine that the employee might suitably then expect anytime after the first 30 days). 

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the developing policy around this important issue.

Prof. Schweik says the Board of Berkeley Faculty Association also wrote to support the Schweik-Chen-Sherwood letter:

“On behalf of members of the Berkeley Faculty Association, we write to encourage the campus to take seriously the questions and concerns raised by Susan Schweik, Mel Chen, and Katherine Sherwood regarding the section of the APM that involves medical separation. As we understand it, some of their comments concern whether the proposed changes intended to better align UC policy with ADA requirements in fact narrow the university’s capacity to handle cases with complex temporalities of disability, and additionally, reduce the foundation for effective employee response. Some of their comments are not directed at the new changes but rather at existing, potentially problematic, language and policies in the APM. Though employee comment to only the proposed changes to the APM is being invited, we hope that you will also consider comments on how to further improve the existing language and policy. In addition to sharing these questions and concerns raised by Schweik, Chen and Sherwood, we would like to add another: what are the employee options for health insurance coverage after medical separation?”

There was no formative response to the concerns raised by the 2014 Schweik-Chen-Sherwood letter. FCDR will follow up with the current administration to see if clarifications are possible.

FCDR welcomes Cal’s new ADA Compliance Officer, Ella Callow

The FCDR welcomes UC Berkeley’s new ADA/504 Compliance Officer, Ella Callow, who started her position on October 17th, 2018.

Ella Callow received her BA from UC Berkeley in Native American Studies and Social Welfare and her JD from UC Berkeley Law. She is well known in national disability circles for her tireless work as the Director of Legal Programs for the National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families. This was a federally funded grant run from 2004-2017 through the disability non-profit, Through the Looking Glass, that helped both directly advocate for disabled parents, who often lose their parental rights to their children; as well as conduct critical legal research on ensuring parental rights. Ella wrote a significant portion of Rocking the Cradle: Protecting the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and their Families, which is aimed at changing state and federal law to ensure the parental rights of disabled adults.

After the NCPDF grant ended, Ella worked as the Disability Services Specialist for the City of Berkeley, ensuring ADA compliance for the city.  She also served as a Litigation Consultant for the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Sector. Ella has also worked closely with Native American communities and has published a number of legal journal articles about issues that face Native American communities.

In the last year, Ella co-authored with Prof. Sue Schweik and Lucy Sirianni a major policy brief for the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society titled State of Change: State-Level Actions to Protect the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and their Children.

UC Berkeley’s hiring of Ella Callow, who identifies as a disabled person, represents the culmination of a sea change that the FCDR has seen in administrative attitudes towards the disability community.  There has been almost a 100% turnover in the leadership of units responsible for disability issues on campus: Carol Christ is the new Chancellor, Oscar Dubon is the new Vice Chancelor of Equity and  Inclusion, Karen Nielson now heads the DSP, and Marc Fisher is the new Vice Chancellor of Administration. Each comes with a significant commitment to changing the climate around disability on the UC Berkeley campus.

The FCDR is looking forward to working with this new leadership to ensuring that the rights of all members of the UC Berkeley disabled community are protected, respected, and included.

Faculty response to DOJ online access response

On September 13, 2016, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Cathy Koshland wrote a problematic response to the DOJ’s findings and conclusions (PDF) that the university was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in how it managed its online course offerings (MOOCs) as well streamed lecture content.

Many Berkeley faculty members were very concerned with the tone and content of VC Koshland’s response and wrote the attached open letter in response (full text also provided at end of this post):



We welcome additional signatories to the letter. Please e-mail if you wish to sign in support. Please include your full name and university title.

Update (2016.09.22 15:54): The FCDR has signed on as a signatory to the faculty letter.


Text of letter follows.

September 22, 2016


Dear Vice Chancellor Koshland:


As faculty at the University of California Berkeley, we are concerned about and disappointed with both the tone and content of your published response to the Department of Justice’s Findings and Conclusions as to how the university’s online course offerings violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It is hurtful and harmful to suggest in any way that people with disabilities are responsible for a decision that might limit online courses and other presentations. This kind of scare tactic creates hostility toward accommodating and therefore including people with disabilities.  While we assume that you did not intend to blow a dog whistle that incites disability access backlash, we fear that this has been the result, which not only harms our students and the public who have disabilities but also the University’s national and international reputation.[1]


We suggest that U.C. Berkeley take the recently announced approach of Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, who wrote a public letter acknowledging the omission of disability in developing his foundation’s agenda.  Rather than becoming defensive, Mr. Walker admitted that in “the 18 months that we meticulously crafted FordForward—an extensive, exhaustive process—we did not meaningfully consider people with disabilities in our broader conversations about inequality.”   After apologizing for this omission, Mr. Walker went on, “… So how do we do this? How do we move from unwitting ignorance to enlightened action?”[2] This is the approach we would have expected of our University.  How do we do better?


UC Berkeley has a long and proud history as a global leader in disability rights, education, and research. As a result, we have a tremendous wealth of knowledge and resources on how to make education accessible. We have ourselves come up with policies that mandate access across the university. As far as we can ascertain, you did not tap any of the faculty or staff with expertise in the area of education and online access (we are thinking, for instance, of the knowledge that Lucy Greco in the ATTLC would have brought to the table), before issuing a press release which threatens limiting public access because of the purported costs of disability access.  It is worth noting that “public,” in this instance, excludes millions of people with disabilities, including our own students with disabilities who use these resources.  Moreover, your statement presents disability accommodations as the cause of a zero sum game. We know that making courses accessible means that all students and learners benefit, disabled or not.


The DOJ letter is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that we can do better.  We must comply with the law, but rather than being defensive and operating from a place of fear, we can be constructive and work towards our mission of public education.


We call on the administration to break out of its insularity and consult the deep well of knowledge and expertise that is already on this campus. We ask for an immediate meeting of administrators, faculty, staff, and students with knowledge and expertise in this area to work on constructive solutions to the problems that the DOJ letter has so clearly spelled out.



Sincerely yours,


Karen Nakamura
Robert and Colleen Haas Distinguished Chair in Disability Studies and Professor of Anthropology

Susan Schweik
Professor of English

Arlene Mayerson
John and Elizabeth Boalt Lecturer in Law

Georgina Kleege
Lecturer in English

Charlotte Smith
Lecturer in Public Health

Marsha Saxton
Lecturer in Disability Studies

Claudia Center
Lecturer in Law


Additional UC Berkeley signatories following the publishing of the open letter

 Mel Chen
Associate Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and Vice Chair for Research; Director, Center for the Study of Sexual Culture

Katherine Sherwood
Professor of Art Practice and Disability Studies

Alastair Iles
Associate Professor of Environmental Policy and Societal Change


UCB Organizations signing in support of this letter

Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights

Berkeley Disabled Students



Updated 9/22/16 3:40 PM

[1] I.e., your language that “[we] must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access,” has already been quoted in media, see Forbes article titled “Department of Justice Wages War on Free Education” (2016.09.21).