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UM celebrates 25th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

UM celebrates 25th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

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Lex Pitra put on headphones for a short time to kill zombies at the University Center.

Pitra, an advising intern studying religion and Chinese at the University of Montana, couldn't see the enemy, but she could hear it.

"It's something I've never thought about," Pitra said. "I've never thought about how not being able to see or not being able to hear really affects your education."

She hadn't thought about how not being able to see would affect playing video games, either, and she kept looking at her screen expecting a visual display.

The zombies only made noise, but Pitra liked the demonstration.

"This seems like a really cool idea," she said.

On Monday, the University of Montana celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At least 50 students, staff and other members of the campus community participated in the event one day after the ADA's official July 26 birthday.

At a brief presentation, UM President Royce Engstrom read a proclamation, and the head of the Alliance for Disability and Students of the University of Montana shared a retrospective on advocacy on campus.

After that participants ate cake, played audio ping pong, and destroyed zombies.


Aaron Page, who will graduate in December with a degree in business, ran the booth with games.

Page, who uses a white cane, said UM has made great strides in becoming more accessible, even in the five years he has been a student.

In the past, for instance, Page would go to class, get course materials from the teacher, turn them into Disability Services for conversion, and receive a modified version later.

The process took time, and he wouldn't get material at the same time other students did, he said. Most of the time now, there is no delay.

In fact, he recently took a class where he had access to everything online, and he was able to take exams at the same time, and in the same room, as the rest of the students.

"They're never going to be 100 percent, but compared to the way things were when I started, it's really come a long way," Page said.

One of the visitors to Page's booth was Engstrom.

Engstrom tried out a game of ping pong, where the player hears the ball and uses an iPhone as a paddle to hit it at the right time.

Page told the president the tunes on the headphones would indicate whether he was playing well or poorly.

"This is pretty good music. I must have done something right," Engstrom said.


In his remarks, the president said UM enrolls roughly 1,200 students with disabilities each year, a high percentage for a campus.

"It's becoming the school of choice for people with disabilities," Engstrom said.

In college, he said, students have life-changing experiences, and as they pursue higher education, they discover who they are.

"It would be just unconscionable to deprive anybody of that experience," he said.

UM is using more and more technology in education, and all of it needs to be accessible, Engstrom said. On campus, many people in Information Technology, Disability Services and other areas have worked to ensure the technology the school uses is accessible.

"It's just remarkable what people have accomplished at the University of Montana," he said.

The proclamation the president read noted the ADA has expanded opportunities for Americans with disabilities, and Engstrom reaffirmed UM's commitment to complying fully with the spirit and the letter of the law.

"We look forward to the next 25 years of accessibility," Engstrom said.


Courtney Damron, president of ADSUM, looks forward to more progress for students with disabilities.

In her talk, she said much work remains on campus. UM has started creating accessible educational environments, she said, but students still face hurdles from their own peers.

"Students with disabilities still face significant backlash from student government," said Damron, a second-year law student.

She cited as an example the failure in 2014 of a resolution supporting electronic accessibility of ASUM Services. She said cost framed the discussion, and she challenged the audience to see accessibility in a different light.

"Accessibility is not an added cost, but instead, must be reframed," Damron said. "Accessibility is the cost of doing business at the University of Montana."

In the past, she said, students have advanced the cause through litigation, and the campus improved for people who have disabilities.

She also said there's more to be done.

"This work likely requires skilled civil rights advocacy by students with disabilities, along with fiscal and attitudinal administrative support," Damron said.

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