Paul Grossman brought his message of diversity and inclusion to the Univeristy's Spring Forum, sharing a message shaped by decades of activism. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)
By Cynthia Hubert and Dixie Reid
Colleges and universities must do more to remove educational barriers for people with disabilities, whose presence on campus helps all students grow and succeed, the featured speaker at Sacramento State’s Spring Forum told an audience of more than 300 people in the University Ballroom on Thursday, Jan. 16.
“In accommodating these students, we have learned a better way to teach,” said Paul Grossman, an attorney and disability-rights activist who as a federal prosecutor helped shape civil rights legislation in the United States. “Why not apply those better teaching practices to everyone?”
Grossman advocates a concept known as “universal design,” which emphasizes teaching approaches and materials that can be equally used and understood by all students regardless of their abilities. The approach might include offering textbooks in multiple formats to assist people with hearing or sight deficits, or course curricula that includes perspectives from disabled individuals. Perhaps all students should be able to use calculators, and tests should not be timed, he suggested.
“It’s a superior approach to education that is built on valuing diversity,” Grossman said.
Fostering diversity and inclusion is one of Sac State’s core values, said President Robert S. Nelsen during the forum. He pointed out that the University has an administrator charged with that task, Diana Tate Vermeire, vice president for Inclusive Excellence.
Sac State’s goal is to ensure that everyone is treated “with love and understanding,” Nelsen said at the forum.
Grossman emphasized the importance of people with disabilities to the University.
“Students with disabilities are a fundamental and necessary part of Sacramento State,” he said. “If you accommodate students with disabilities, they will be successful.” And the campus and the overall community benefit, he said.
Disabled people “have insights that we don’t have, which is why we want them in our classrooms,” he said.
Grossman's insights come from a long career of activism.
In April 1977, Grossman, who has multiple disabilities, witnessed the historic 504 Sit-In in San Francisco. It was the longest occupation of a federal building in U.S. history, as disabled individuals pushed for the issuance of long-delayed regulations related to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The act was the first federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities.
Nelsen introduced the Spring Forum idea in 2019, to replace the annual Spring Address and highlight issues of particular importance to the campus community. Last year, the forum featured student, alumni, and faculty performances in reaction to the fatal shooting by Sacramento police of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was killed in his grandmother’s back yard.