Where OU stands on campus accessibility, transportation


Maggie Willard

The Bear Bus was a mode of accessible transportation on campus before it was discontinued in August of 2020. Many students continue to call for its reinstatement.

The Bear Bus was a vital mode of transportation for campus accessibility and sustainability before the service was discontinued in August of 2020. In May of 2021 students protested on campus, signs in hand calling for its reinstatement. Since then, there hasn’t been a lot of news on where the university stands in regard to Disability Support Services (DSS) and the Bear Bus. So where are we almost a year later? 

DSS Director Sarah Guadalupe said the office works with students on a one-on-one basis to meet students’ particular needs.

“Students who are requesting services come in to meet with the staff,” Guadalupe said. “We schedule an appointment with them to review accommodations they have received in the past. We review medical documentation that provides us with whatever medical or intellectual services they might need. A student perhaps with a learning disability might receive some type of testing accommodations, like extra time or a quiet space. Everything is done individually.” 

However, student transportation is not a service that the DSS department facilitates. As it stands currently, students are responsible for their own transportation. 

While many students have not had to be on campus as frequently with fully online instruction or hybrid classes, transportation accessibility is still a concern, especially with the intent to return fully in-person. Many students have not abandoned their passion for reinstating the Bear Bus. 

“We want to push the Bear Bus situation. There would be these claims made of low ridership and how it was unorganized and unreliable,” said Student Body Vice President and Transportation Committee member Murryum Farooqi. “The director of DSS would say only one or two students used it for disability purposes. That is why we want to step up and fund it, because it’s important.” 

Low ridership was the reason that the Bear Bus was shut down, but since then, there have been no alternatives offered to make campus accessible to the students who need it. 

“When talking to DSS, according to federal law, it’s not the university’s responsibility when students have physical disabilities because they’re not federally mandated to,” Farooqi said. “They keep saying no one rode it, but it doesn’t make sense because it’s a non-working version, so they won’t put in a working version. The university isn’t collecting the data. No one knows who’s deterred from attending OU because we don’t have transportation.”

Engineering student Mia Lewis discussed the benefits of having the Bear Bus. “It was helpful the most during winter,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot of snow on the ground so no one really wants to walk to class. They have certain paths they shovel before the others. It would be very difficult for me to get to class, or I couldn’t get to class because of the weather conditions. I didn’t drive, so that was one of the main difficulties.” 

Lewis also said the university has not offered any alternative transportation services to her or other students. 

“Last year, all my classes were online,” Lewis said. “This year, so far, classes have been online. If they go back in person, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to hope that the weather isn’t that bad, otherwise I don’t have any plans yet.” 

While the university is conscientious about certain services, there are improvements to be made, especially during winter weather conditions.

“They do a good job at making sure the doors are up and running, same with elevators,” Lewis said. “I would say the main thing [the university can improve on] would probably be shoveling. I remember this one bad day last year where it was snowing a lot, and there would be no way for me to get out. I had to stay inside and Doordash a lot. I couldn’t go to Vandy. Even if I don’t have classes, I need to eat. If I can’t get to the dining hall, it’s an issue. I chose OU in part, because of their accessibility. Not having the Bear Bus makes it harder.” 

If the Bear Bus isn’t going to be reinstated, then it is up to the university to provide accessible alternatives in order for disabled students to get around campus. As students hope to return to campus, we’ll see how the university responds to calls for accessible transportation.