Disability advocates criticize campus golf cart service

An ecstatic Emily Ocasio ’27 made her way to Frost Amphitheater to attend events planned for new frosh during New Student Orientation (NSO). Due to multiple chronic conditions, including one that affects her mobility, Ocasio planned to use a Disability Golf Cart (DisGo) to move from event to event.

Though she was arrived on schedule, when she attempted to return home, DisGo would leave her stranded on the side of a curb for nearly 40 minutes. 

48 hours after moving across the country to a University that promised she was “welcomed here,” Ocasio said she “sitting alone on the side of the road in a place [she’s] never been.”

The University organized an unforgettable NSO, but Ocasio said she could not experience the events in the same way that other students could. “They said I had to come to these events, but then they didn’t make sure that I would be able to get there,” she said. 

Ocasio thought this was an isolated experience, but the more she utilized DisGo, the more she realized otherwise. The issues at NSO were symbolic to how disabled students sometimes feel stranded on campus, Ocasio said.

She called on Stanford to revamp how DisGo is operated and stressed that she didn’t blame individual drivers.

DisGo aims to provide complimentary curb-to-curb transportation with accessible golf carts for students, faculty and staff with a disability or medical condition. DisGo runs on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a focus on core campus locations that can’t be accessed with the Marguerite shuttle.

In 2022 and 2023, approximately 400 individuals (90% students) utilized DisGo, according to Sheila Sanchez, a program director in the Diversity and Access Office.

DisGo serves several users, including students with sprained ankles or ones who experience blindness. While many users said they were grateful the service existed, they said it was increasingly inefficient and unreliable. Some previously consistent users told The Daily they abandoned the service. 

Trisha Kulkarni ’22 M.S. ’24, who is blind, used DisGo for the past six years. When she started to use the service in 2018, it became her primary mode of transportation and “a community outside of other Stanford circles.”

“The drivers and honestly even the dispatchers had my best interest in mind and were trying to get me where I needed to go,” Kulkarni said. 

DisGo transitioned to new management in 2018 — it moved from the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) to Stanford Transportation.

When OAE operated the service, student drivers took peers around campus. Sanchez explained that unstable class schedules, especially during the add drop period, required constant changes to the system. OAE also lacked resources to maintain the service.

When it moved to Stanford Transportation, drivers were hired from outside Stanford. At first, Kulkarni did not recall facing any hardships with the new system.

When Kulkarni returned to campus following the COVID-19 pandemic, she said several changes made the service less reliable. A significant increase in ridership, made it difficult to obtain on-demand rides, Kulkarni said. She noticed that scheduling rides in advance or on a recurring basis was more difficult due to inconsistent communication with dispatchers. 

A new app named TripShot was also introduced as the primary way to schedule rides. Kulkarni decided to continue with the old method, calling dispatchers to schedule services, since she was unsure about TripShot’s accessibility to the visually impaired.

Prospective DisGo users currently complete a form to receive approval. They are then allowed to schedule rides on the phone, DisGo’s online website or TripShot.

All DisGo users must schedule rides at least a day in advance. For users like Kulkarni, who choose to reserve rides on the phone or website, they calls dispatchers before scheduled rides to confirm the bookings. 

Users described this system as confusing and inefficient. Liam Zuckerman ’27 got surgery for a torn ACL in early February and relied on DisGo to reach classes.

Zuckerman said he received a TripShot notification once that his driver was running 20 minutes late. But as he waited in his room, the dispatcher texted that his ride was about to leave — he was at the pick-up spot for too long. While Zuckerman managed to catch his ride, he expressed frustration with the experience.

Hailey Solas ’27 scheduled her rides by phone when she sprained her ankle, since TripShot was unavailable on Android. Solas was unaware she had to call in the morning to confirm the bookings and missed her classes when rides didn’t arrive.

Solas only used the service for three days but described it as unreliable long term. “I was only doing it for a couple days, but if it was something that became a bigger thing, it probably would’ve hurt my grades and everything else,” Solas said.

For students with permanent disabilities like Kulkarni and Ocasio, a welcoming and accomodating campus extends beyond improvements to services like DisGo.

While efforts exist to create a disability community campus, Kulkarni said it was exhausting to constantly need to advocate for change: “My experiences are rooted a lot in being a blind student on this campus. I’ve had to fight super hard to make Stanford work in general.” While she decided to walk since she wanted more independence, Kulkarni stressed that it was important to increase support for student with disabilities.

Echoing Kulkarni, Ocasio said it was necessary to center the disabled community in conversations related to accessibility, as opposed to viewing them as a charity case or obligation.

DisGo users said they hoped to see more avenues to provide feedback, more drivers, weekend services, an improved scheduling experience and an additional shuttle service for users who do not need door to door transportation.

Sanchez acknowledged complaints about DisGo. While Diversity and Access isn’t involved with operations, Sanchez said that office will step into a more active and engaged partnership with Stanford Transportation. Luis Antonio Davido, DisGo Transportation Operation Account Coordinator, did not respond to a request for comment.

Sachez said the office’s work is driven by asking, “What are those things that would help to elevate the experience and voice of the user so that we can create change?”

“People of any ability should be able to come to Stanford and be successful and not feel like they have to challenge the system at every stage of the process,” Kulkarni said.