Alumna details where SDSU lacks accessibility, demands change


Katelynn Robinson

In a 12-page letter, Duarte explained the many inaccessible aspects of SDSU’s campus.

by Nicholas Neikon Ebadat, Staff Writer

President Adela de la Torre was sent an open letter on April 4, pleading for a campus that lifts people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Disabled with the opportunity to meet the standards of their peers with goals that include: removing barriers, providing communication alternatives and including Deaf/Disabled advocates with deliberative processes.

The 12-page letter came from Donna Duarte, a longtime SDSU Alumna, educator, contributor and advocate for Deaf and Disability Rights who began her time as a student at campus as a non-disabled hearing person and is now a person who is Deaf and has disabilities.

Duarte calls for SDSU to “eliminate the communication deprivation” she said is prevalent in most events, meetings and even emergency services. 

Interpreters at events are not placed next to the speaker segregating Deaf people from others, automated captions are hard to understand or nonexistent unless asked for, emergency towers around campus are made for two-way communication and SDSU Police Department denied her request for 911 texting, according to the letter.

“That day I learned SDSU does not value my life and would not do the right thing to ensure I had an accessible way to reach SDSU PD in case of emergency,” she said in the letter.

With the unveiling of the new Snapdragon stadium coming soon, Duarte has submitted a binder with signatures for accessible open captions at both the new stadium and Viejas Arena. According to the letter, she was told open captions would be a feature of the new stadium, but was given no response to how they would be presented or if there would be other accessibility features like sensory rooms for sound and motion sensitive people.

In addition to proper communication, she calls for a more accessible placement of the Student Ability Success Center, currently on the third floor of Calpulli Center. Student Services East and West was built in convenience for all students to have the departments in one centralized location, but SASC was left out of that arrangement. It is located on the highest point of campus, according to the letter.

“As COVID-19 has pointed out to everyone and SDSU PD has pointed out to me, disabled lives and Deaf/HH lives are an afterthought— especially in emergency situations,” Duarte wrote in the letter. “SASC is a student services department that has zero to do with providing any type of medical care to anyone. It does not belong in [the] Calpulli Health Center.”

The letter is not the first of reported concerns from the community as the ASL-Deaf Studies Program has a rough history with the school.

In the 2008 financial crisis, Cal State Universities went through extreme budget cuts and the College of Health and Human Services put the program on the chopping block, a decision that was unique to SDSU from CSUs. It was not until 2010 that Associated Students issued a resolution to oppose the program’s indefinite suspension and proposed ASL be placed with the Department of Linguistics, treating the study as language and culture rather than medical ailment.

“If I could change one thing, it would be the current beliefs and attitudes I perceive from campus power holders about disabled and Deaf/HH people,” Duarte said, in an email interview. “It is really hard to change a belief. The other person or people must be willing to sit in discomfort, have their beliefs challenged, open their minds, and be willing to view things from a perspective other than their own.”

Four hours after the letter was sent, an SDSU newsletter detailing Disability Celebration Month was sent out from SASC. In response to the letter, a representative from the Student Affairs and Campus Diversity Division spoke on behalf of the university to invite Duarte to an accessibility committee meeting in the summer.


Editor’s note: In a previously published version of this article a sentence said, “Interpreters at sporting events are not placed next to the speaker segregating Deaf people from others…” For greater accuracy, “sporting events” has been changed to “events” since this issue applies to a broader selection of events.