DOTS deserves praise for trying to change attitudes surrounding invisible disabilities

Some students with disabilities have experienced problems with the University of Maryland's paratransit system. (Victoria Ebner/For The Diamondback)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Many students, myself included, will agree the University of Maryland’s Department of Transportation Services is not the best by any measure. However, as much as I love the variety of DOTS memes on Facebook, the department is actually doing something good right now with its “Will You Stand Up for Me?” campaign.

Through this initiative, DOTS has posted signs on university buses reserving seats for students with invisible disabilities. This includes any disability that isn’t immediately observable, such as some mental disorders and chronic illnesses. The goal of the campaign is to spread awareness of the challenges people with these disabilities face and to make the campus more accommodating for them.  

The campaign was started when linguistics doctoral student Cassidy Henry, who has multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, tweeted their frustration about having an invisible disability that makes standing on the bus a painful ordeal. The lack of awareness about invisible disabilities can make it extra difficult for someone like Henry to ask for a seat on the bus.

I applaud DOTS for this campaign, especially for recognizing the importance of challenging the culture around issues like these.

For DOTS to run a campaign that may not have a concrete nor tangible outcome it can track is really important. Making surface-level changes is relatively easy and doesn’t require much effort. Changing a widespread and flawed attitude is much harder — and that’s what will actually fix the issue in the long run. Similar to Preventing Sexual Assault’s annual Slut Walk, this campaign aims to change perspectives, not just make accommodations.  

Empowering people with invisible disabilities is crucial. Since society puts a heavy focus on easily visible physical disabilities, it can be difficult for someone with an invisible disability to stand up for themselves and ask, for example, for a seat on the bus. Telling these individuals their needs are valid and that we don’t want them to be afraid to ask for accommodation is an important act on the DOTS’ part.

I also applaud DOTS for reaching out to Henry and letting them have a big role in this campaign. Instead of running the campaign without representation or input from someone this issue affects, DOTS has worked with Henry to make sure the campaign is well-rounded. Working with them will hopefully also allow the campaign to be more effective in empowering others with invisible disabilities.

This university has had its issues when it comes to meeting students with disabilities’ needs. As I outlined in another column, there have been many instances this semester where the university treated students with disabilities as an afterthought or didn’t give the equal access to education all students are guaranteed. I implore DOTS to make this a long-term campaign instead of ending it after this semester. It will likely take more time to have a large effect on our campus, but it’s necessary. Through this campaign, DOTS can raise awareness for individuals who need our support and care and will hopefully make everyone on campus a little more understanding.

Liyanga de Silva is a junior English and women’s studies major. She can be reached at liyanga.a.ds@gmail.com.

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