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Illustration by Baraa Al Jorf

Non-Negotiables for Diversity: Accessibility

As an institution and community that prides itself on its diversity, it is imperative to address diverse student experiences, especially with regard to disabilities, without the lens of ableism

Apr 2, 2024

Note: In this text, I will be using the term students with disabilities rather than students of determination.
NYUAD prides itself on the diversity of the campus: you will hear about the number of countries represented, and you will see numerous different flags and pictures of students in their different national costumes.
You will meet millionaires whose monthly budget is your family’s earnings for a year, but you will also meet students whose assistantships are remittances paid to help their families.
What a diverse bunch we truly are—poised for every holiday. One elevator ride in Spring and you will see posters for celebrations of every religion.
There is then, of course, the forgotten diverse — the ones we avoid talking about, the ones we neither include in promotional photographs nor argue about on RoR, but always mention in the little Moses paragraph of every syllabus. We are collectively either terrified of acknowledging on-campus ableism or comfortable enough not to care about it.
I leave it up to you, dear reader, to choose the lesser evil. But, I leave it up to myself to tell you a few stories of the disabled communities on campus in hopes of providing greater visibility.
Firstly, disabled students experience systemic ableism academically. The strict attendance policies that thrive on deducting points for absences affect disabled students disproportionately more than their non-disabled counterparts.
For example, doctor’s appointments, procedures, and treatments will all likely clash with class time. Let’s say you will attend your class right after your appointment.
Some medical treatments are invasive and draining, which prevents said students from attending class, even though the appointment did not clash.
Now said student is not only broke from the taxis to the hospital, drained from their procedures, but they also have to worry about 10% of attendance points being shaved off their grade. 10% isn’t much, except when it brings you down a letter.
Let’s take another student. This time, their disability is a learning one, ADHD for example. This student needs a prescription for their medications in order to have access. Now let’s walk you through it.
The psychiatrist is there one day a week for a few hours. If you have class, you now have to beg your professor so you can make it to your appointment. You’ve secured your prescription and the clock starts ticking — 48 hours until your prescription expires.
Luckily, you count on the pharmacy on campus being close and taking falcon dirhams, so it shouldn’t be much of a bother.
Yet, the pharmacy is out. You see that it has been out of your meds for a few weeks now. You are unsure of which other pharmacies take your insurance, as now a) paying with Falcons is no longer an option and b) you have the cost of transport to the other pharmacy, in addition to paying for the medication and the hassle of reimbursement in case they do not take GeoBlue.
If you cannot make all of this in those 48 hours, you have to wait an additional week. This means that you have not been able to access your medication for 7 days, out of which the average student would have, presumably, attended around 8 classes.
Now that your participation grade is coming for you, your attention is drifting away from the slides. The deadlines creep up and you are counting down the days until the next available psychiatrist appointment.
I’m now introducing you to a third student, one with a physical disability. Let’s say they injured their leg and are now using crutches to get around campus. Their daily walking routine would include pushing multiple heavy doors to: eat at a dining hall, enter their classroom, and enter their residential building.
For a lot of us without crutches, this is a whole task, but it is significantly harder for students with physical disabilities to navigate around the heavy, cold, metal doors that are more intense than my upper body workout routine.
Lucky for us, we can apply for Moses Centre accommodations. However, the ‘reasonable’ in ‘reasonable accommodations’ is a keyword I want you to highlight.
Who decides what is reasonable for people with disabilities?
That’s easy—everyone but the people with disabilities!
Your professor can simply tell you that your request is unreasonable.
To this, the meritocrats on duty say, “What about the academic standards?” We are in NYU, after all. We cannot just let anyone take the easy way out. It’s supposed to be challenging, right?
To this, I will only say—what is supposed to be challenging? An NYUAD student is supposed to be challenged by stimulating intercultural discussions, intellectually creative and rich class debates, cutting-edge research opportunities, and advanced-level courses. This is what is supposed to be the challenging part of education.
What is not supposed to be challenging is accessing your medication, your room, your classes, medical professionals, and the grades that you earn.
To end this piece, I will just invite you to do a little self-paced thought experiment. No Amazon vouchers though, I don’t have the budget.
But next time you are on your way to class, a social event, your room, or a dining hall, look around and challenge yourself to notice all the little ways in which systemic ableism has penetrated our institution. And if you dare–talk about it.
Marija Janeva is a contributing writer. Email them at
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