Wed. May 18th, 2022
How a basement hideaway at UC Berkeley nurtured blind innovators

BERKELEY, Calif. — If, within the fall of 1987, you discovered your self on the College of California, Berkeley, and also you made your means by the sloping, verdant campus to Moffitt Library, you could possibly stroll by the doorways and take two flights of stairs all the way down to the basement.

Flip proper and you’ll discover a door tucked within the nook — room 224, although the placard isn’t written in braille. After unlocking the door utilizing a key with a ridged prime, you’d stroll by a small foyer with tables, chairs, and a “couch” manufactured from seats pulled from a van. The scent of lived-in-ness, a mixture of takeout and occasional and books, permeates the cramped area and makes the tip of your nostril perk up.

That is how Joshua Miele and different blind college students discovered their strategy to this underground hideaway. Its university-sanctioned identify was the blind college students examine middle. However just about everybody referred to as it The Cave. “It’s the place the bats frolicked,” Miele defined. 


It was loosely organized, loosely supervised; if it was run by anybody, it was the scholars.

A physics main from New York state, Miele was a freshman that yr. He spent hours day-after-day in certainly one of eight bunker-like rooms lining The Cave’s windowless hallway, finding out, operating his fingertips alongside pages of braille, and dictating his homework to a reader who transcribed it. Immediately, he’s a MacArthur “genius grant” winner who builds adaptive applied sciences at Amazon, work that has made it an industry-wide expectation that shopper units are accessible to people who find themselves blind and produce other disabilities. 

He is only one of a era of leaders, innovators, creatives, and geniuses who’re reshaping the world — and have roots in The Cave.


We like to inform ourselves that geniuses go it alone. When a hit story entails an individual with a incapacity, it’s usually framed as an act of overcoming, an inspiring story of perseverance within the face of unimaginable tragedy: dropping a way or gaining an obstacle. However the story of The Cave exhibits fairly the alternative, that genius is solid by group, within the sharing of data, instruments, and assets. That incapacity shouldn’t be a curse. 

That very same fall at “Cal,” there was additionally Marc Sutton, a tech whiz and sixth-year pupil within the room throughout the corridor from Miele. Sutton was majoring in environmental research after discovering pc science lessons and professors unwelcoming to a blind individual. A botany professor had shut him out of his class as a result of he “couldn’t profit” from the hands-on lab work — it was earlier than the landmark Individuals with Disabilities Act outlawed such discrimination — so he began giving excursions to blind individuals at a botanical backyard.

Sutton works at Apple now, discovering software program bugs and designing options that make it doable for blind individuals to make use of Apple merchandise, like telephones and computer systems. 

Black and white photograph of University of California, Berkeley's Moffitt Library in 1975.
UC Berkeley’s James Okay. Moffitt Library, house to The Cave, in 1975. Bancroft Library

Others within the expansive Cave community went on to change into pioneers of their fields – operating main nonprofits, school rooms, and journey excursions for the blind, writing books, practising regulation, serving on presidential commissions, and pushing the incapacity rights motion into the twenty first century. A lot of them level to The Cave because the place the place they discovered a sure energy, discovered how one can minimize by discriminatory forms, and felt deeply understood for the primary time. They noticed new prospects for themselves within the different Cave dwellers, residing examples that contradicted the narrative they have been fed by a world that’s hostile to distinction. At Berkeley, college students who have been ostracized of their hometowns, usually for being the one blind child round, turned a part of a wealthy lineage, and an unlimited incapacity group.

It was in The Cave that Miele discovered that having a incapacity didn’t imply inhabiting a damaged physique. And it was the place Miele mentioned he began to change into conscious of “design and assumptions” — how his world was formed by “ableist thought behind who’s accountable for the instruments that we use, whether or not these instruments are intersection controls or constructing entrances or pc know-how.” 

A graduate program, a avenue curb, a house, a office — something — that’s created with out incapacity in thoughts will exclude individuals with disabilities by design. “The assumptions that go into it perpetuate the power of sure individuals to be privileged to make use of it and others not,” he mentioned.

In The Cave, Miele and his classmates discovered they may problem these assumptions. They might design a world for themselves. In order that they did. 

braille illustration of

Be subversive


Miele didn’t choose Berkeley for its activism. “I got here to Berkeley for the physics, and stayed for the incapacity,” he mentioned. 

He grew up in Brooklyn, and later Rockland County, north of New York Metropolis, the place he felt “most youngsters have been afraid of me as a result of I used to be totally different, and, for the primary time in my life, I had classmates who thought it was enjoyable to mess with the blind child,” he mentioned.I’m stronger due to it, but it surely wasn’t a lot enjoyable.” His ideas ceaselessly strayed from the terrestrial world. He devoured all the braille books his classroom bookshelf held about outer area and informed his trainer there was nothing else to learn. (He interned at NASA whereas he was at Berkeley.)

Arriving within the Bay Space as an 18-year-old, Miele didn’t consider himself as an individual with a incapacity. He had gone to a camp for blind kids in Vermont when he was younger, however that was his solely actual publicity to different blind individuals. All of the examples of blind individuals within the media have been “bumbling fools,” he mentioned, and he wasn’t that. 

“I used to be a complete ableist earlier than I got here to Berkeley. I believed, form of had these unquestioned assumptions about incapacity that have been simply as dangerous as anyone else,” he mentioned. 

Miele by no means lacked confidence, however he wasn’t but safe in being blind. Into maturity, he tried to keep away from being “blinky” in any respect prices. That’s, he cringed at individuals who acted “stereotypically blind,” who felt individuals’s faces or talked loudly on the bus, or smacked their canes laborious towards the bottom. They took up an excessive amount of area, they gave blind individuals a foul fame, Miele thought. 

At Berkeley, Miele realized that he “didn’t need to have contempt for that conduct, that it was simply my fellow blind individuals attempting to make it,” he mentioned.

Like numerous younger adults, college students in The Cave needed to get out of their hometowns, out from underneath well-intentioned, overprotective mother and father. Berkeley, as a protected harbor for outcasts of all types, was their likelihood. 

Sutton had craved one thing totally different from the “sterility” of rising up in middle-class, suburban San Jose, Calif. He was bused to high school with different blind youngsters and college students with disabilities, however he was in school with principally sighted youngsters. He felt remoted from each units of friends. On the bus, he thought, positive, he was blind, however he wasn’t like these different youngsters with extreme disabilities. And at college, he was uncomfortable with the sighted youngsters. “For me, it took actually till I acquired to Berkeley” to search out his candy spot, he mentioned. 

“Individuals turned adults at The Cave,” mentioned Lucy Greco, who was employed in 2005 to oversee the middle. “It was a ceremony of passage being there. It was a really worthwhile a part of their life.”

Miele went by his personal studying curve. He acquired a information canine, a yellow lab named Xilo, the summer time earlier than faculty as a result of he thought that’s what blind individuals did. It took him three years to lastly simply use a cane, like most of his blind buddies, to navigate by the world.

College students acquired keys to The Cave, in order that they have been there all in any respect hours, immersed in homework, speaking to a reader, or evaluating notes on professors. They ate low cost meals, deliberate pranks — like transport a field of rotten fruit to a Cave supervisor utilizing an especially gradual, low-cost courier for blind individuals — and crammed into classrooms to move round joints with the lights off, “as a result of nobody may see or, the individuals who may see some, it was like, too dangerous,” Sutton mentioned. 

Miele additionally spent hours at one other Berkeley library, in a room stuffed with maps, operating his fingers over a 6-foot-wide mannequin of the campus to study his means round. Anytime he needed to go someplace new, he’d work out one of the best route on the mannequin. He found very younger that maps helped him study. Rockland County was a “sidewalk-less, transit-less suburbia,” in stark distinction to his native Brooklyn, which made it robust for a blind child to get round on his personal. Then he discovered a e-book of maps he may really feel together with his small fingers — trails and lakes and different fascinating textures he hadn’t but felt together with his ft. 

When Miele stood within the library as an undergraduate, feeling the contours of mini Berkeley, many cognitive scientists nonetheless believed blind individuals couldn’t use avenue maps. It was, in a means, a subversive act. Studying that map planted a seed. A long time later, he would invent a means for blind individuals to print tactile maps of any metropolis in the USA and, ultimately, the world.

Whereas nonetheless in class, he acquired a job at Berkeley Methods, a small software program firm the place Sutton labored. 

There was a disaster brewing on the time, within the early Nineteen Nineties. The commonest pc working system was text-based, that means blind individuals may use display readers on them. However the world started to shift towards graphical Home windows and Apple techniques, with visually advanced interfaces that required a mouse for navigation. Display screen readers weren’t but prepared for the a number of home windows and overlapping visible components, like buttons and test packing containers and lists and tables. “So blind individuals have been positively feeling like, oh, we simply made some progress and now we’re going to lose it,” mentioned Sutton. 

In response, Berkeley Methods developed Outspoken, the primary display reader for Mac computer systems. Miele was employed to do tech help and software program testing, after which his job expanded to incorporate advertising and marketing, technical writing, and customer support, strolling customers by how one can use the brand new device.

Working there was exhilarating. “I’m the man that’s serving to work out how blind persons are going to make use of the subsequent era of computer systems,” he remembered pondering. “That’s badass. That’s actually enjoyable.” It was a sense that may transport him from one bold undertaking to the subsequent over the subsequent 30 years. 

braille illustration of

Be in cost


Miele remembers clearly how he met Sutton. Miele was struggling to eliminate some cussed formatting in a doc, and others in The Cave advised he ask Sutton for assist. “Hey, man, I’ve some chips and avocado. You need some?” Sutton mentioned in greeting when Miele popped into his sparsely embellished workplace. After which he informed Miele precisely how one can repair the doc. “It was like he’d pulled this secret code out of his head,” Miele recalled.

Within the yr they overlapped at Berkeley, Sutton and Miele fashioned a friendship of distinction. Miele was daring and unafraid of battle, whereas Sutton was nonconfrontational and shy. They’d developed totally different methods for dealing with individuals’s ignorance about blindness. For Miele, it was usually impatience — simply get out of my means. Sutton tended to let issues slide off his again, and customarily needed as little consideration on him as doable. “He sort of infused me with some boldness that I wasn’t fairly stuffed with,” Sutton mentioned, “and I in all probability infused him with some tact.”

The Cave was the place iron sharpened iron, academically — methods for surviving Berkeley have been as a lot a forex as sensible readers and low cost weed — but additionally personally. A rotating forged of characters, readers in addition to college students, created its distinctive synergy and chaos. 

“I’m the man that’s serving to work out how blind persons are going to make use of the subsequent era of computer systems. That’s badass. That’s actually enjoyable.”

Berkeley’s Disabled College students’ Program gave college students a stipend for hiring individuals to learn their textbooks aloud, file books on tape, or kind their homework. However the college students have been in command of hiring their readers, and managing their hours and assignments, and so they shortly discovered who was good at what.  Among the many most memorable of the eccentrics in The Cave was the MIT dropout who smelled like pipe tobacco, “coughed like dying,” and, as Miele remembers it, had extreme obsessive-compulsive tendencies, however whose physics tutoring single-handedly helped him graduate. 

As a result of blind individuals need to work a lot more durable to finish fundamental duties, they performed laborious, too. College students would deliver a stack of books for his or her readers and a six-pack of beer for after they completed. In the event that they labored in a single day on an task, they’d take photographs of liquor within the morning, and by no means alone. It was a bit like “a co-ed blind frat, simply within the partying sense,” Miele mentioned. 

A Cave workers member remembers one finals week when the air con broke and the coed suite was sweltering. So a pupil pulled off his pants and labored in his underwear, figuring out lots of people in there couldn’t see him anyway. 

This unregulated, advert hoc group of issues made for a sure magic. As soon as issues are systematized, neatly sorted into bureaucratic hierarchies, “you’re not in cost,” Sutton mentioned. “We acquired to be in cost.”

A fundamental attraction was The Cave’s slate of instruments. It was the one place on campus the place college students may entry a wide selection of particular know-how that allow them do their work on the educational clip that’s required at one of many prime public faculties within the nation. 

They might kind search phrases right into a speaking pc terminal that may then learn them books, articles, and different supplies from the library’s catalogs and databases — pre-internet. It was the one such terminal on campus, hard-earned by Sutton, who satisfied a pc science professor to put aside just a few thousand {dollars} within the division’s price range for the gadget. 

A CCTV would blow up textual content on a display, sufficiently big that these with low imaginative and prescient may learn independently with larger ease, as a substitute of straining to decipher minuscule textual content with their faces inches from the web page. The Cave had bookshelves stuffed with reel-to-reel and cassette tapes of ceaselessly used books. It had an early Kurzweil Studying Machine, which may scan, digitize, and skim again pages of textual content out loud. A Thermoform machine was used to press heat copies of braille textual content and — it didn’t take lengthy for a bunch of school college students to determine — make grilled cheese sandwiches.

“There was part of me that was additionally very envious of them,” mentioned Greco, who’s blind. “I noticed all of the work that we did advocating for ourselves after we have been youthful was paying off.” 

Coincidentally, she bought one of many first few copies of the display reader Miele and Sutton labored on at Berkeley Methods. When she moved from Canada to the Bay Space together with her husband, she didn’t know anybody on the town “apart from these two guys that may reply the cellphone often” on the firm when she referred to as for assist. At some point, she defined her state of affairs to Miele, and requested if they may meet for dinner: “He mentioned, ‘Positive, Simply search for the man with a number of scarring on his face.’” 

Joshua Miele, wearing a light blue button-down shirt tucked into blue jeans, poses at a standing desk in his home office.
Miele in his house workplace. Laura Morton for STAT
Joshua Miele's hands feel a flat tactile map he created, which in its completed form has interactive buttons.
Miele demonstrates a part of a raised map that he created, which in its accomplished kind has interactive buttons. Laura Morton for STAT

Change every part


Miele knew from an early age that he stood out. A mentally sick neighbor poured acid on him when he was 4 years outdated, burning a lot of his face and making him blind. However he by no means needed that day to dominate his life. It took him years to let that story be told in its entirety. 

Uncertain of how one can reconcile his inside self with the outward look individuals judged him by, Miele was decided to let his work outline him as a substitute. “I at all times needed it to be form of like, ‘Oh, Josh is all this stuff and he additionally occurs to be blind and burned,’” he mentioned. 

He’s been an inventor and an educator, and president of the board of the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, whose CEO is one other Cave alumnus, Bryan Bashin. In his free time, Miele wrote a coding script (shared on GitHub) that turns jazz chord charts into braille, so he may study to play jazz on his bass guitar with an outdated pal from The Cave. 

His invention of TMAP, formally Tactile Maps Automated Manufacturing, grew out of two insights. First he had to determine how one can use MATLAB, a product engineers and scientists use to investigate and visualize knowledge, for his graduate work in psychoacoustics, the examine of how individuals understand sound. It took him six months to switch this system to current knowledge with sound and tactile fashions, as a substitute of visuals. And he realized he may then use his model of MATLAB to learn extra individuals.

Whereas working on the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Analysis Institute, he pulled geographic knowledge of downtown Berkeley, turned it right into a format that might be embossed on paper, and despatched it to a printer. The primary time, it was roughly gibberish. However with a tweak to at least one line of code, he acquired what he needed. 

“I pushed the button, I held my breath, I pulled the sheet out of the printer and appeared on the map and was like, ‘Oh, my God, this was a map that was made by a pc due to a software program I wrote,’” he mentioned. “And I spotted on the time, that is going to vary every part.”

“‘Oh, my God, this was a map that was made by a pc due to a software program I wrote.’ And I spotted on the time, that is going to vary every part.”

Anyone with entry to a tactile printer or embosser can use the instruments he constructed to plug in a location on the TMAP website and print out a raised map, giving them confidence that they will navigate independently — simply as he had used the Berkeley mannequin a few years earlier. “That suggests blind individuals need to go locations,” he mentioned. “It implies that blind persons are going to be strolling round, by themselves, with out being led round by any individual.”

Now, at age 53, he’s a MacArthur “genius,” engaged on any variety of accessibility tasks at Amazon. 

“It’s simply been essentially the most thrilling time of my skilled life within the final decade,” he mentioned. 

What was once pet tasks and small-scale endeavors at the moment are instruments which might be utilized by individuals all over the world, and so they set inclusion benchmarks for everybody else within the tech world. He constructed YouDescribe, a searchable platform the place individuals can add audio descriptions of YouTube movies. YouDescribe has customers in 152 international locations, and could have shut to five,000 described movies — starting from music movies to full motion pictures and instructionals — by the top of 2022, in accordance with knowledge collected by Smith-Kettlewell. 

Miele additionally dreamed up WearaBraille, a tool that lets users type out text messages in braille by tapping their fingers on any floor utilizing a digital wi-fi keyboard managed by motion-detecting finger loops. And the free wayfinding app, overTHERE, which he hopes to replace and revive with the MacArthur recognition, which gives him a large five-year grant to spend on no matter he needs. 

His work at Amazon has contributed to the creation of wealthy braille and tactile interfaces on the corporate’s display readers, tablets, and even microwave ovens. He helped design Alexa’s Show and Tell feature, which lets customers establish objects as they unpack groceries and prepare dinner, by holding them as much as an Echo Present machine. And Miele helps lead Amazon’s effort to create a strong library of audio descriptions for Prime Video. 

Miele’s coronary heart and genius, mentioned Peter Korn, a longtime colleague and director of accessibility at Amazon Lab126, are in designing “modern and pleasant experiences.” 

braille illustration of

Construct a refrain


Berkeley had lengthy been house to a major — and revolutionary — incapacity group. That is town the place the incapacity rights motion was born, and have become a formidable political drive, efficiently advocating for passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Act in 1990 and different reforms. Berkeley was the birthplace of the Nationwide Federation of the Blind, began by regulation professor Jacobus tenBroek, whose evaluation provided some of the legal foundation for necessary civil rights laws and the Supreme Court docket’s Brown v. Board of Schooling ruling. 

Black and white photograph of Herb Willsmore and Ed Roberts sitting in their wheelchairs in front of full bleachers at a football game in 1969. Willsmore, dark-haired and bearded, wears a long sleeve shirt and dark pants. Roberts wears a plaid button-down shirt and jeans with embroidered patterns on the legs.
Herb Willsmore and Ed Roberts (proper) at a soccer sport in 1969. Each have been integral members of UC Berkeley’s Disabled College students’ Program and helped discovered the Middle for Unbiased Dwelling. Bancroft Library

This metropolis was house to mathematician Newel Perry, who began the California Council of the Blind, and Judy Heumann, a powerhouse incapacity rights organizer. The Middle for Unbiased Dwelling, which was kickstarted by Ed Roberts in Berkeley, was an offshoot of the varsity’s program for disabled college students, and was the primary group created to assist individuals with disabilities to stay how they needed.

All have been nonetheless round — in flesh or in spirit — when Miele confirmed up. The motion was nonetheless “ringing within the tradition,” he mentioned, particularly in the way in which members of The Cave supported each other. Jim Gammon noticed it firsthand. In 1982, he had been working for 2 years as a Cave supervisor (although, in his early 30s, Gammon was extra like one other classmate) when he noticed a job opening as an consumption coordinator on the Berkeley College of Optometry. After talking with different blind individuals working at low-vision clinics, he determined he may do the job with some lodging, and utilized.

However Gammon by no means acquired an interview. As an alternative, he acquired a name from the clinic eye physician, who mentioned he wouldn’t contemplate Gammon for the job as a result of “there’s no means” a blind individual may do it, Gammon recalled. He filed a grievance together with his labor union, and he informed the scholars in The Cave. “They usually acquired all steamed up about it,” and marched on the college chancellor’s workplace at California Corridor with indicators that mentioned, ‘UC Screws the Blind’ and ‘UC Has No Imaginative and prescient,’” Gammon mentioned. The scholars noticed him as an elder, a future model of themselves, unable to get a greater job as a result of he was underestimated for his incapacity. 

Sutton was a part of that protest. He remembers “making a ruckus” within the coronary heart of campus, informing passersby of the optometry college’s “big hypocrisy.” It may solely be worse if the Disabled College students’ Program itself was rejecting a blind job applicant, he thought. 

Despite the fact that he arrived at Berkeley 5 years later, Miele heard about Gammon’s story, and “noticed it as a cautionary story.” He resolved to by no means let that occur to him. 

Ultimately, Gammon was vindicated at a listening to, and the clinic acquired a slap on the wrist for discriminating towards him. Nevertheless it confirmed how the scholars have been prepared to boost hell for a supervisor — and for one another — as a result of they knew they have been more likely to face related hurdles in the event that they didn’t tackle them within the second. 

If a division refused to purchase speaking computer systems so individuals who have been blind or had low imaginative and prescient may use them, college students from The Cave banded collectively to create a refrain of squeaky wheels. If a professor wasn’t accommodating, they’d coach each other on how one can push again. And if it got here all the way down to it, they knew that they had an entire group of individuals backing them up. A lot of that period’s accessibility infrastructure — if it might be referred to as that — was grassroots, scrappy, and performed by sheer drive. 

Within the many years that adopted, the calls for have been much less about entry to fundamental lodging and authorized protections (although these points haven’t gone away), and extra about social inclusion and true fairness. 

Some estimates place the variety of individuals with a incapacity at 15% of the world’s inhabitants, with a big share of that group residing in poverty. But incapacity is commonly neglected of conversations about justice, equality, and human dignity. So for Miele, it meant a lot to see his identify on the list of MacArthur fellows, alongside that of journalists documenting the battle for liberation, scientists scouring for illness clues and cures, and among the foremost artists of our time. 

“We’re speaking about incarceration, we’re speaking about borderlands and the injustices and inequities of our society round race and sophistication and gender,” he mentioned. “And the truth that my work is included in that checklist is a very thrilling sign to me from the world by way of the MacArthur Basis that accessibility and incapacity fairness are worthy of being in that lineup. And I do know that. And the those who I work with on a regular basis know that.”

As a matter of fairness, it’s necessary to Miele that no matter he creates is offered to the individuals who want it. And meaning a tool mustn’t price extra simply because an individual is blind or has low imaginative and prescient. A part of the answer is utilizing “off-the-shelf” merchandise and instruments and constructing accessibility into issues. Nevertheless it’s additionally an unlimited pool of pc code that’s created and shared publicly on the net totally free. There are a bunch of small teams utilizing this code to adapt present instruments or create new ones for accessibility, like open-source display readers, braille note-takers, and text-to-speech functions. Fairly often, these are very important however underfunded efforts saved alive by volunteers. 

“In the identical means that governments help important industries as a result of they will’t afford to have these industries fail typically, I feel we have to help accessibility and open supply, as a result of it’s essential,” Miele mentioned. He’s been pondering rather a lot about that downside, and the way he may use his MacArthur grant to begin a basis that would assist maintain present work and fund new tasks.

He’s additionally centered on altering the general public’s mistaken perceptions about blindness. 

“In the identical means that governments help important industries as a result of they will’t afford to have these industries fail typically, I feel we have to help accessibility and open supply, as a result of it’s essential.”

In fiction, there are the blind sages and seers, the Marvel-ized blind superheroes, and the innumerable figures of speech that body blindness because the absence of sunshine, info, and data. And in actual life, there are “valuable few blind individuals” who’re recognized for his or her contributions to the world, Miele mentioned.

Final fall, Miele made his means north of Berkeley, across the curve of Wildcat Canyon, to Rolling Hills Memorial Park in Richmond, Calif. There, he visited the grave of tenBroek, the blind Berkeley regulation professor, who died in 1968. All of it turned very clear. He needs to show individuals about blind leaders like tenBroek. 

“I’d like there to be extra blind people who find themselves recognized for doing good on the earth,” Miele mentioned. 

And hopefully, by embroidering the names of blind “badasses” onto the patchwork quilt of historical past, the worry can subside. 

“Persons are actually afraid of incapacity, and particularly blindness,” Miele mentioned. “There’s analysis that exhibits {that a} vital variety of individuals would quite be useless than blind. And I’m right here to let you know, it’s positively higher to be blind than useless. I’m having a fairly good time.”

Life with a incapacity is way richer, extra advanced than the myths we’re offered. It’s a story of networks and inventiveness, and of the devastatingly odd craving to be witnessed in our entirety. Not as superhuman or subhuman; simply as human. 

Illustration of Braille spelling “It’s where the bats hung out,”

Witness rebirth


The Cave now not exists. The dynamic, communitarian model shut down in 2009, a part of an effort by Berkeley to formalize the middle and adjust to federal rules. The library basement is now a design studio, and the Disabled College students’ Program, with its personal constructing on the coronary heart of Berkeley’s campus, helps with academic lodging. 

Color photograph of the exterior of The James K. Moffitt Library on a sunny day in Berkeley, Calif. The library, multi-story and made of concrete, is closed for seismic renovations. A few people sit at benches outside, and one person walks by the building.
Moffitt Library, quickly closed for seismic renovations, in March 2022. Laura Morton for STAT

Greco, the Cave supervisor from 2005 till it closed, nonetheless feels conflicted about her function in ushering ultimately. “I sort of felt like I used to be being made into the police officer. I used to be The Man rapidly,” she mentioned. “I knew the tales of how necessary this place was to all of them, and I needed to change it. I inevitably shut the door on it for the final time.”

The basement’s lockers, stuffed with decades-overdue audiobook vinyls from the Library of Congress, dusty books, and long-forgotten knick-knacks, have been cleaned out. The Thermoform, which printed braille and grilled cheeses, was going to be trashed – near-sacrilege to Greco – so she discovered a brand new house for the machine with a Cave alum, who then gave it to Miele. The Chinese language restaurant the place the Cave group would collect to rejoice graduations has been changed by new improvement. There are curb cuts and speaking crosswalks at most intersections downtown. 

However some issues are the identical. The collegiate spirit of unrest nonetheless manifests as bullhorn protests, about something from far-flung conflicts to native points, throughout lunchtime on the campus’s central drag. 

In 2017, college students organized to demand a brand new sort of middle for these with disabilities, a spot the place they may benefit from the full social lives that outline faculty years. In a tense back-and-forth lasting years, pupil activists lobbied the college for funding, and for an area. They have been supplied room in one other basement. This time, they mentioned no.

In 2020, Berkeley lastly agreed to establish a Disability Cultural Center in a ground-level suite inside a cluster of corrugated metallic transportable buildings. 

The middle shall be a service and social hub for college kids with all types of disabilities, together with individuals with power well being situations, psychological problems, and studying disabilities, wheelchair customers and people with sensory issues, in addition to those that aren’t “out” about their disabilities, mentioned Ann Kwong, the middle’s coordinator. It can additionally serve blind college students.

The intention is to create an area “for individuals to really feel snug, protected sufficient, and [the] vulnerability to expertise their very own change and shift in incapacity,” she mentioned.

It will likely be, in essence, a Cave — even when not The Cave — for a brand new era.

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