New ASUWT President Hoping to Change University Policies on Disability

Last week, the University of Washington, Tacoma, received national media attention when Kelsey Hough, a former student with a deadly peanut allergy, dropped out, claiming that the university was not providing her sufficient protection against exposure to peanuts. This situation is complicated and has yet to be resolved; however, recently elected ASUWT president, Peter Pentescu, has plans to address several other issues that have arisen with Disability Support Services over the past year.

“There are issues that we can change and should be changed,” he said.

Pentescu explained that DSS is full of good people who work hard to solve issues like Hough’s.  However, while UWT’s disability policies work most of the time, occasionally problems arise.

“There are some structural issues that let people fall through the cracks,” Pentescu said.

DSS policies are designed by the administration in UW Seattle, and are applied to all three campuses. Pentescu explained that there is often a disconnect between UW Seattle policies and UW Tacoma’s actual situation, simply because of the differences in the student bodies. Much of UWT’s student body is nontraditional, or first generation and may not have access to a doctor, or be able to afford the official external documentation that is required.

One student, who preferred to remain anonymous, could not afford the proper documentation, and was therefore unable to receive assistance for her learning disability.  Pentescu spoke of others who had similar experiences when working to have their disabilities accommodated.

First generation students may also not have the familial guidance and experience that helps others navigate institutional policies.

“I’d like to see more streamlined access,” Pentescu said.  “There are good people in DSS, but the bureaucracy is daunting.”

Pentescu wants to work toward making it easier for those with disabilities to obtain the necessary assistance through simple actions such as awareness campaigns. Throughout the next year, he will also compile a list of changes to DSS policies that he sees as necessary, and will work with the main administration offices at UW Seattle to implement them.

“If the institution is aware of [the issues], they will see an internal drive to change,” he said.