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Cover of the spring 2003 SFSU magazine. Geography Professor Max Kirkeberg and students tour of San Francisco's Western Addition.

 

SFSU Magazine Online, Spring/Summer 2003, Volume 3, Number 2.
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Seeking the all-access pass

As a busy administrator at San Francisco State, Gene Chelberg, who is blind, uses various adaptive technologies. He makes appointments with BrailleNote, a hand-held computer with braille output. A speech synthesizer called JAWS reads out loud the text on his computer screen. Talking caller ID tells him who is on the other end of the line.

But Chelberg, director of the University's Disability Programs and Resource Center, insists that these technologies do not help him overcome his disability. Being blind, he says, is part of who he is and not a condition he needs or wants to get past.

"I talk about [blindness] in the same way I talk about myself being a man, being Scandinavian or being gay," said Chelberg. "It's only when you run into a barrier that it becomes a negative experience."

At San Francisco State, Chelberg and his full-time staff of 13 work to remove barriers so that people with disabilities can enjoy equal access to campus life. "I'm out there every day going, 'Oookay. What about access?' This has got to be part of every decision we make at the University," Chelberg said.

Chelberg came to San Francisco State two years ago from his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where, as an undergraduate, he helped establish the country's first cultural center for disabled students.

After graduating in 1992, Chelberg stayed on to become assistant director for disability services and later ran a program for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the university community. He also holds an executive master's of management and disability services from the University of San Francisco.

At San Francisco State, Chelberg gets a lot of what he wants by sheer force of his ebullient personality. He is funny, quick-witted and doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. But should his charm offensive fail, Chelberg can always fall back on state and federal laws mandating access and reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.

"If I need to, I can pull that out of my back pocket," he said. "Not only should you do it because you think I'm a nice guy and I need access, but in case you don't think I'm a nice guy, the velvet hammer comes down."

Beyond the legal obligation, Chelberg believes there's a moral imperative to the accessibility issue.

"As an institution of higher education, we have a responsibility to be a leader in modeling how humanity embraces all of its parts," he said. "I know that sounds like some sort of platitude, but I really believe it."

 

Back to Breaking Barriers

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Gene Chelberg, director of SFSU’s Disability Programs and Resource Center, smiles as he sits outside at the Park Merced apartment complex next to campus with his guide dog, a German Shepherd named Victor.
   

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Last modified October 16, 2003, by the Office of Publications