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WNY representative on new SUNY student committee vows to advocate for accessibility issues on campus

Collin Lacki
Courtesy of Niagara County Community College
Collin Lacki, 19, is a member of the new SUNY Student Voices Action Committee. Lacki, who is blind, said he plans to advocate for all students living with disabilities.

The State University of New York formed a new committee this fall in an effort to become more “student-centric.” WBFO’s Kyle Mackie spoke to Collin Lacki, one of the new student representatives from Western New York, who said he plans to fight for accessibility issues on SUNY campuses.

Lacki is a 19-year-old sophomore at Niagara County Community College who serves on the NCCC student government and as secretary/treasurer for the New York State Association of Blind Students. He said he was “through-the-roof excited” when he got asked to join the new SUNY Student Voices Action Committee, which launched in late October in an effort to give students more decision-making power within the SUNY system.

“Blind students and their voices definitely aren’t always heard,” Lacki said. “So, for me to be able to be right there, talking to administration, kind of on behalf of not only myself but all of them as well is a big kind of victory in the sense of making sure accessibility issues are heard.”

Listen to an extended conversation between WBFO’s Kyle Mackie and SUNY Student Voices Action Committee member Collin Lacki, recorded on Monday, Nov. 23. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

A total of 27 students from SUNY community colleges, universities and technical programs across the state were appointed to the new committee, and Lacki said it’s been “incredible” to connect with them during the group’s first two virtual meetings.

“We have athletes, we have students who are parents as well, every different ethnicity [and] background—just the diversity is awesome. And everybody has their own issues that they want to talk about. Everybody has their concerns,” Lacki said. “It’s a high honor to be working with so many people of different backgrounds and that definitely share the same passion as I do for making their voices heard.”

Credit Courtesy of Collin Lacki
Collin Lacki is a sophomore music major at Niagara County Community College who also serves as secretary/treasurer of the New York State Association of Blind Students.

Lacki said he believes he is the only representative on the new committee who is living with a disability, as well as the only blind or visually impaired member.

The other student representatives from schools in Western New York are Kaitlyn Bertleff, a senior neuroscience major at SUNY Geneseo; Sarah Conticello, a senior inclusive education major at SUNY Fredonia; Justin Downey, a master’s candidate in higher education and student affairs at the University at Buffalo; Suleyman Eminov, a sophomore studying computer science at Jamestown Community College; and Leysha Velez, a junior studying social work at SUNY Buffalo State.

Asked what some of the most common challenges blind and visually impaired students face on SUNY campuses, Lacki said the biggest one right now is dealing with remote learning platforms that aren’t compatible with screen readers—assistive software programs that convert digital text or images into audio or braille for blind or visually impaired individuals.

“For example, [in] one of my classes I take now, all of our homework is assigned through an online software which is 0% accessible to me through my screen reader, so I have to go to my accessibility office so they can physically read me the questions off the computer,” Lacki said. Some of Lacki’s professors also still use paper handouts, which can make it difficult for him to follow along in class. Those are the kinds of issues he plans to bring up during Student Voices Action Committee meetings.

Lacki also said he hopes to get at least one full committee meeting dedicated to issues that affect students living with disabilities.

“It would be easier if the professors and the people even above the professors that are making the work for us, if they could just understand the little things they could do here and there just to make our education experience just a little more accessible,” Lacki said. “I wish they understood the importance of accessibility and just how little of a change it is.”

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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