NYU Abu Dhabi celebrates diversity. When I was working for the Institute of International Education recruiting Japanese high schoolers to NYUAD, academic advisors marveled at the number of nations represented by my class — 65 nationalities among 151 students at that time. NYUAD is diverse. Yet, nationality is not the only way to measure how diverse we are. How about ability?
Disability is not discussed in our community. I have never met a blind or deaf person in our school. I have yet to see a person in a wheelchair navigating the campus.
However, people with special needs go to school. They study among colleagues with different abilities. NYUAD's value of diversity should therefore accommodate those with special needs.
Unfortunately, the current reality is that NYUAD cannot welcome such students because the new Saadiyat campus discriminates against those with different abilities by denying them access to many areas of the school.
On 15 Feb., with the Public Safety Office's help, I borrowed a wheelchair to research the accessibility of the Arts Center. To begin with, I could not enter the Arts Center because I could not pull open a door while sitting down. I asked the security guard how a person in a wheelchair could enter the Arts Center. He said that a security guard must see the wheelchair and run to assist. There are always only two security guards in the Arts Center, one at the desk and another patrolling.
In my exploration through the ground and first floors, I could not open a single door. I could not enter a classroom, a bathroom and sometimes a corridor, especially if the fire doors were closed. They were too heavy to open with one hand and there was nobody available to assist. In some cases, furniture was arranged in the hallway so that the path was too narrow for a wheelchair to pass through. There were also times I could not find the way to the lifts. The signs were placed too high on the walls to see from a sitting position, especially with the glare of the lights.
A person in a wheelchair is entitled to the same school experience as a person who walks. The Saadiyat campus disregards those with different abilities. A closed door to a person in a wheelchair means exclusion. It means discrimination. It actively states that the community does not care. This is not the NYUAD that I know.
Thankfully, the same security guard I had talked to before helped me call another guard in the control room, who asked me to email him about these accessibility issues. I received an email back from the Public Safety Office on 17 Feb. saying that my message was forwarded to both NYUAD facilities and projects. If NYUAD wants to be known for its diversity, it needs to be ready for it first.
Mariko Kuroda is design director. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.