ARC History and Legacy
Accessibility Resource Center: History and Legacy
By Aaron Anderson
Throughout its 50 years, Accessibility Resource Center has evolved to fulfill the changing needs of UNM students with disabilities. The department was called “Special Services” upon its inception in 1970, the same year that the Disabled Students Organization was founded by grad student Linda Sloane. There was a troubling lack of accessible facilities and equipment on campus, as Sloane explained—only Mitchell Hall had a restroom with “low mirrors, hand rails, and room to maneuver a wheelchair,” for example (“U Buildings,” 1970, p. 1). In 1978, Julie Lanning wrote a letter to the New Mexico Lobo editor about students who use wheelchairs missing appointments because Physical Plant would take hours to repair elevators. There were many issues that Special Services needed to resolve, and the department’s founding came not a moment too soon.
Roughly a decade into its existence, Special Services was featured in a Lobo article, highlighting invaluable resources the department offered like tutoring, a Braille dictionary, and a tactile campus map (“Handicaps Overcome,” 1981). A few decades later, the department was renamed “Accessibility Resource Center,” and we continue to revise and expand the tools and services we provide for students. Today, we have a textbook conversion service, testing accommodations for online and face-to-face courses, “smart pens” for recording notes and audio simultaneously, and much more. Whereas we accommodated only a few hundred students in decades past, our students today number well over 1,000.
As the UNM Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) celebrates 50 years of ensuring a more equitable campus, there is another anniversary fast approaching: 30 years since the birth of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On July 26th, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the act into law. The purpose of the ADA is to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities and to provide reasonable accommodations for them in several sectors: the workplace, public transportation, telecommunications, and more. The updated version, known as the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), was enacted in 2008 to revise legal definitions of “disability” presented in the original ADA (“What Is,” n.d.). In addition, certain organizations have failed to meet ADA policies over the past few decades, and the resulting court cases have guided the development of ADA provisions. As conceptions of disability have evolved over time, ARC has striven to evolve with them in how we provide accommodations and communicate on- and off-campus.
One of the most memorable individuals to come into contact with the staff at ARC is the late Anne B. Thomas, a lawyer and professional storyteller who advocated for disability rights, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality (No Bounds Scholarship, 2020). She received her BA and JD here at UNM and was a former director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (“‘No Bounds’ Scholarship Established,” 2019). She became paralyzed at age 18, and many of her stories, which centered on her experiences as a person who used a wheelchair, touched on deeply human qualities like vulnerability and independence (Thomas, 2015). Unfortunately, Anne passed away in January 2019, but her advocacy, activism, stories, and unfailing compassion will not go uncelebrated. In the spring of 2021, ARC will award the first Anne B. Thomas No Bounds Scholarship at UNM, which her family and friends created in her memory to provide aid for students with disabilities at UNM and California State University-Long Beach.
We at ARC have immense gratitude for Anne and individuals like her who work tirelessly for disability rights and awareness. We are glad to play even a small role in helping UNM students accomplish their academic goals, and we look forward to meeting many more of you—as well as the new challenges we might encounter.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into disarray, and so many of us feel powerless in the face of it. ARC is an organization that, like countless others, has had to reshape itself amidst this unprecedented to keep providing necessary accommodations to its students as best we can. It is our mission to ensure, even when faced with a pandemic or other unexpected crisis, that UNM classrooms—whether online or in-person—are inclusive of each student's needs so they are welcoming to all of us.
Anne B. Thomas No Bounds Scholarship. (2020). Retrieved from http://abtnobounds.com/
Handicaps overcome with Special Services. (1981, January 12). New Mexico Daily Lobo, 85(76), 11. Retrieved from https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/daily_lobo_1981/1
Lanning, J. (1978, April 5). Ups and downs. New Mexico Lobo, 81(127), 4. Retrieved from https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/daily_lobo_1978/54
“No Bounds” Scholarship established in memory of Anne B. Thomas. (2019, March 24). UNM Newsroom. Retrieved from https://news.unm.edu/news/no-bounds-scholarship-established-in-memory-of-anne-b-thomas
Thomas, A. (2015, January 30). The power of storytelling. Disability Visibility Project. Retrieved from https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2015/01/30/the-power-of-storytelling-by-anne-thomas/
U buildings inaccessible to disabled. (1970, October 12). New Mexico Lobo, 74(22), 1. Retrieved from https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/daily_lobo_1970/105
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? (n.d.). ADA National Network. Retrieved from https://adata.org/learn-about-ada