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.

FCDR supports open letter protesting UCB decision

The FCDR as an organization and its officers signed onto the open letter recently published in Inside Higher Education:

ACCESS DENIED: A group of scholars object to a decision by the University of California, Berkeley, to remove many video and audio lectures from public view as a result of a Justice Department accessibility order.

FCDR supports disability protest on Cal campus

The Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights supports the disability protest on March 20th.

Located in front of California Hall from 11a – 2pm, the protest is being organized by the Berkeley Disabled Students.

Are you a U.C. Berkeley student, faculty, or staff member with a disability who has experienced discrimination on campus? Disabled students and staff are fed up with second-class policies and procedures toward our community. FIGHT BACK in solidarity with disabled people as we demand accountability and change from campus administration! PLEASE NOTE: You do not have to be a disabled community member or have to disclose your disability to participate. Feel free to bring your own signs. For a copy of our demand letter to UCB administration, please email or check back on this Facebook Page later for a posting of the demand letter. Join us in solidarity. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs #UCBerkeleyDisabledStudentsFightBackAgainstDiscrimination

Number of disabled faculty and staff at UC Berkeley

Last year, Prof Nakamura filed a public records access request noting that under Section 503  of the Rehabilitation Act, all federal contractors must collect data on the number of individuals with disabilities (IWDs) in their workforce. This would include UC Berkeley.

The response dated April 27, 2016 from the UC Berkeley Public Records Office was that UC Berkeley had:

  • 24 “regular” faculty with disabilities
  • 11 “other” faculty
  • 70 “graduate student titles”
  • 31 “other academic”
  • 210 staff (54 rep and 156 non-rep) *1
FN: We assume rep means union representation.

UC Berkeley advertises that they have 1522 full-time faculty (caveat: this may not be the same as “regular” faculty), which would put the percentage of IWDs in the faculty ranks at 24/1522 or in terms of percentage, 1.5%.

Now it’s clear that these numbers are inaccurate — that they are much too low. We know just through personal connections that there are more than 24 or 35 disabled faculty.  All faculty were asked two years to report their status and new faculty are asked when they are onboarded in the HR database.

Why people are underreporting their disability status then becomes a key question.


Fall 2016 FCDR Meeting – Thursday Dec 8, 10a

Dear FCDR Members:

I am happy to invite you to our Fall 2016 meeting of the Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights at UC Berkeley.

When: Thursday December 8, 2016, 10:00-noon. Refreshments provided.
Where: The Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hall.
Access: Wheelchair accessible. CART or ASL interpretation can be provided on request. Please do not wear scented products. Let us know if you have other access needs.

This will be an occasion to meet and welcome Karen Nakamura who is the new Robert and Colleen Haas Distinguished Chair in Disability Studies, (part of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society), Professor of Anthropology, and Secretary for the FCDR. Karen has been on medical leave this semester, following a car accident this summer, but she has already taken a leadership role in our work to make UCB a more inclusive place for faculty, students and staff with disabilities.

Below, I will summarize some of the issues FCDR members have been working on this semester, and we will be glad to provide more information when we meet. But we’d mainly like to open up a conversation about increasing accessibility for faculty with disabilities on campus and discuss such issues as: disclosure, negotiating accommodations, recruitment, promotion and retention.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

We look forward to being together on December 8. Please bring any colleagues who might also be interested in joining the FCDR.
All best,

Georgina Kleege, President FCDR
Katherine Sherwood, Vice President FCDR
Karen Nakamura, Secretary, FCDR
Charlotte Smith, Treasurer, FCDR

Summary of FCDR Activities Fall 2016
The DOJ Letter

Early this semester, the Department of Justice cited UCB for the inaccessibility of its free online courses:

FCDR members felt that Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education, Catherine Koshland’s response to the DOJ letter scapegoated people with disabilities, and implied that the “public” that our public university serves does not include people with disabilities. Karen Nakamura and others composed an open letter expressing our distress about the wording of the letter and offering to work with the administration to find solutions to the problem. Karen and I met with VC Koshland, VCEI Na’ilah Nasir, and others to suggest ways to encourage faculty and others who design online course materials to build in access features from the outset, rather than adding them on later as an after-thought. This kind of planning would not only be more cost-effective, it would improve access to the course materials for all students.

There has been no follow-up to this meeting

The Disability Audit

A number of FCDR members met with Chad Edwards, Principal Auditor, Audit and Advisory Services who is conducting an audit of disability issues on campus. We shared our experiences with inaccessibility and our suggestions for improvement, and were impressed by his thorough survey of services and programs that already exist on campus and his ideas for the future. He predicted that he will finish his report by the end of this calendar year. When I receive a copy, I will share his findings with the FCDR membership.

The DSP Advisory Committee

Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, Na’ilah This was in response to concerns raised by disabled students and the FCDR last year. Karen Nakamura agreed to chair this committee, and I am the other faculty representative. Arlene Mayerson, who is faculty at the law school, is representing the local disability advocacy and activism community. There are representatives from the two disabled student groups (the Disabled Students Union and Berkeley Disabled Students) and there is a representative each from the graduate student association and the ASUC.

As the committee was being formed, we learned of the closure of a long-standing program administered by the DSP:

Although the problems that led to this closure began during the tenure of the previous DSP director, our committee has been trying to assess if the new services being offered are adequately replacing the old program. Complicating matters for us, VCEI Nasir has yet to delineate a charge for our committee. I hope that by the end of the semester I will be able to report some clarification.

Access for Disabled Visiting Scholars

We advocated for a visiting scholar who was seeking disability accommodations while at Berkeley on a fellowship. Since the person was not a student, the DSP at first refused to offer the requested services, saying that it was the responsibility of the sponsoring department. But the sponsoring department did not have funds for this. Eventually the DSP agreed to provide the requested services, but it was unfortunate to witness the time and energy the visiting scholar had to devote to the process.

Respectfully Submitted,

Georgina Kleege, President FCDR