Q & A: Mota anticipates opportunities, challenges as ADA coordinator

January 21, 2020 By Greg Bump

Ruben Mota has been hired as the UW–Madison campus’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator. His first day in the position is today.

Photo: Portrait of Ruben Mota

Ruben Mota

Mota comes from the McBurney Disability Resource Center, where he was associate director, student services. He joined McBurney in 2013, after spending nine years working in educational institutions in Switzerland. Mota has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from American University in Washington, D.C., a master’s in teaching from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a PhD in leadership in educational administration from Capella University in Minneapolis.

In an email interview, Mota talks about his vision for expanding accessibility and inclusivity on the UW–Madison campus.

Q: When did you become interested in working on issues surrounding access and inclusivity?

A: I distinctly remember being marginalized by some classmates in 5th grade back in Ohio because I wear hearing aids. That was the seed. From that point on, I seemed to grow toward serving and supporting others. I went on to become a special education teacher, working to ensure classrooms were set to meet students’ individual needs.

That work continued during the last seven years at the McBurney Disability Resource Center, connecting with faculty and staff to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure our campus is accessible and inclusive for individuals with disabilities. In the last two years we have intently focused on raising awareness of inclusive language and instructional design that promote a greater degree of access and inclusion for all members of our campus community.

Q: What are some common misperceptions about ADA?

People think ADA accommodations are expensive. Research has shown accommodations usually cost no money at all, and if there is a cost, it is usually less than $1,000. Another misperception is that accommodations provided will somehow create an unfair advantage for the person with a disability. Accommodations are designed to level the playing field, giving everyone — regardless of ability status — a chance to be at the starting line.

Another misperception about the ADA is that it only applies to individuals with a disability. The ADA extends protection to individuals perceived as having a disability or who have a previous history of a disability. Yet another misperception is that accommodations are prescribed by the ADA. In practice, accommodations are developed through a conversation between both parties.

Q: What would be an example of a circumstance when members of the campus community would reach out to you regarding accessibility issues?

A: Say you are a campus department developing a new summer program for visiting scholars. You would reach out to me to be proactive in planning for access and inclusion in your program design. Think not just about your physical space and policies, but also the day-to-day flow of your program, and how it can function to either include or exclude people. For example, is your web application accessible to persons with low vision, are your videos captioned, are you asking participants what they need to participate fully? Similarly, if you have a current program, contact me — we can discuss barriers and steps to eliminate them. Overall, a focus of this position is encouraging inclusive design.

My role is also to ensure institutional compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means I look at broader campus policies and procedures to ensure they promote access to the university and its programs. Our campus service animal policy is one example. I also serve as the contact for accommodation appeals.

You can also contact me to learn of fantastic resources on campus, such as the McBurney Disability Resource Center, Facilities Planning & Management, Employee Disability Resources, and the Center for Digital Accessibility and User Experience. These units are integral in promoting equal access and inclusion, and are why UW–Madison has a long history of providing access to individuals with disabilities.

Q: What are your long-term plans to build a compliant ADA program?

A: My long-term plans for building a compliant ADA program for campus stem around education, outreach and training. I believe knowledge is power, thus I hope to use my role as the campus ADA coordinator to elevate awareness of the ADA, through outreach and trainings held across campus as well as a self-guided training program.

Hopefully, through awareness of the ADA, we will all feel empowered to play our part of right-doing to ensure that all programs, policies and events are welcoming and accessible, and that we are talking about what accommodations we need to provide to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to everything UW–Madison has to offer.

In addition to outreach and training, over the long term, I hope to continue participating in the work that has been taking place on campus for the past few years in changing the societal view of disability as something that is broken and needs to be fixed, and instead viewing disability as another aspect of diversity.

Q: What are some examples of progress in recent years on accessibility and inclusivity?

A: I have seen very clearly, particularly in the past two years, more campus partners and departments making contact to both receive training on creating accessible events, and wanting to engage in conversations on how their programs can be more inclusive of individuals with disabilities. I think campus conversations on identity and intersectionality have helped us take a hard look at who has been missing from the table.

Around campus, exciting signs of progress include: the Accessible Circulator Shuttle; the new Nick (Nicholas Recreation Center) will have fully accessible ADA spaces including zero-entry access to the pool; campus is hiring a researcher of signed languages as part of the Opening Doors Through Language: Access and Equity faculty cluster; and the ADA coordinator is now a full-time position. If you have something exciting happening regarding access on campus, I hope you will reach out to me!

Q: What are the biggest challenges that remain?

A: As ADA coordinator, I do not do this work alone. Everyone has a role to play in creating an accessible campus. The challenge for me is overcoming attitudinal barriers or the idea that accommodations are too burdensome or unnecessary to implement. Additionally, for our international campus community, who may have differing views regarding disability and accommodations, my challenge will be to make them aware of the ADA, too.

I am excited to face these challenges and begin serving UW–Madison as its ADA coordinator. This is a remarkable time as this year marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA. I hope you will join me in celebrating this landmark civil rights law!