Hopkins students with disabilities reported difficulty securing accommodations from Student Disability Services (SDS) and a campus culture that is not inclusive. SDS is responsible for providing services such as assistive technology, mentoring services, accommodations, and accommodation letters that are shared with instructors.
Fundamental issues with accommodations
Senior Caroline Cerilli defined two categories where issues were presented for students with disabilities.
âThe first is very basic and is simply to make sure that people with disabilities have access to the same materials as all other non-disabled students. It’s just a matter of basic accommodation, âshe said. “The second would actually be to create an inclusive culture where people with disabilities can truly be part of the community and participate and be relevant and not just have to fit into the culture.”
Cerilli noted that the University’s self-advocacy model for requesting accommodations has proven to be a challenge for students, as many of them don’t know exactly what they need and might not know. what types of arrangements would work best for them. She noted that this burden being placed on the student gives them little leeway.
Students also mentioned that the portal where students request accommodations, Accommodate, initially required that students send their accommodations requests directly to faculty.
Sophomore Zandy Wong said some students find it uncomfortable to disclose their disability status to their teachers.
âWith the new system, you will have to send these requests for adaptation letters to teachers yourself. So [you had] to reveal that you have a disability, and the students weren’t necessarily comfortable with that, âshe said. âSo that was a big problem for a lot of students, especially if you have a hard time [with] mental health issues or something like that.
After student complaints, the system changed so that letters of accommodation were automatically sent to professors.
In an email to The News-Letter, Director of Media Relations, Jill Rosen, explained why the system was implemented and how it has changed.
“We implemented Accommodate in June 2020 when SDS moved to a university-wide database so that all JHU schools share an online electronic system, making it easier for students to enroll in all divisions,” she wrote. âFor a period after the launch, letters had to be sent to students during the transition, but as of last spring, most schools (including Homewood) started sending letters directly to faculty through the portal of the faculty. “
Cerilli explained that campus culture and dialogue don’t necessarily integrate disability into the conversation and make people with disabilities feel that they cannot freely discuss the issue.
âThe idea works great if we have a favorable campus culture for it and if a person knows exactly what they need,â she said. “But we are just not [at the point where] everyone feels comfortable asking for what they need.
Wong echoed this sentiment, adding that provisions for students with disabilities are often seen as a benefit over other students without disabilities, rather than a way to level the playing field.
Laurel Maury, a graduate student in the Engineering for Professionals program who has previously written editorials for The News-Letter about his experiences on campus with a disability, spoke about his impression that many teachers do not accept people with disabilities.
“I have had three teachers now [who] talked about my disability or my accommodations during the conference, and it is illegal, but the law under which it is illegal, [Family Educational and Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is] not a heavily enforced law, âshe said. âIf a teacher wants to talk about my disability during class, the department can talk to him and ask him not to, but [there] doesn’t seem to be some kind of [mass] push to prevent teachers from doing it.
FERPA grants rights to students with disabilities, including the right to lodge complaints in the event that academic records are disclosed, thereby violating a student’s privacy.
Maury shared another incident where an instructor singled her out due to the perceived inconvenience of providing her with accommodation.
“[A] the teacher would just tell me that I was being unreasonable in asking this, but the point is, I am not asking, âshe said. “I show Hopkins some medical documents and we discuss my needs, and then Hopkins asks him so it’s technically his managers asking him, but he comes to me.”
Rosen responded to these allegations by referring to University policies regarding disability.
âInstitution-wide faculty training on disability inclusion, accessibility and accommodations has been provided and recorded in 2020 and 2021,â she wrote. âSpecific faculty training will be provided throughout the current academic year and scheduled in a continuous cycle in the future. In addition, faculty are responsible for ensuring that their classes are accessible and providing reasonable accommodations in partnership with SDS and other campus services.
Problems during the pandemic
The challenges imposed by transitions between in-person and online learning modalities during the pandemic were acutely felt by students with disabilities, who noted inconsistencies in receiving accommodations.
Last fall, then freshman Alex Fialon struggled to understand and find solutions to help him with his ADHD.
âI kind of went completely blind in the first half of the year just with the SDS housing and didn’t even know what the range of housing was. [was],” he said.
Fialon asked the counseling center for help, but the office refused.
âI specifically contacted the ADHD service. It took them a while to get back to me, but basically they said because of COVID[-19] they didn’t have anyone to give me specific ADHD support, âhe said. “They didn’t have anyone to prescribe me medication either, which was really important.”
Cerilli noted difficulty receiving closed captions for online lectures, which led to her dropping out of a course.
âPersonally, I had expectations for live zoom with captioned and recorded videos with captions, and I was getting these emails from someone in the SDS office saying, ‘I’m working on it; don’t expect them sooner, âshe said. âBut it wasn’t up to me. My teacher was posting a video 24 hours before I watched it, and SDS wouldn’t have captioned it for a few weeks. “
Ideas for change
Many students with disabilities believe that fundamental reforms and changes in campus culture should take place. Wong suggested that the university offer online modalities to accommodate people with disabilities.
âWith the return to in-person learning and normal ‘college life’, I am really concerned that students with disabilities [will be] left behind again. Many students struggle with chronic illnesses [which] make them more immunocompromised or create problems that you know make it hard to get around, âshe said. âThe pandemic has really shown us that classroom environments and activities can be made fully accessible [with] a low-cost virtual option for the school or population you work with.
Fialon discussed different initiatives the University could implement to create support systems for students, such as an ADHD Support Group where members could talk to each other and provide moral support. He also noted that whenever he called the counseling center, they were always reserved as they were overwhelmed.
Rosen described the efforts to increase staff within SDS.
âWe have increased the staff of SDS. A new Executive Director was hired in 2019 to recommend and oversee changes to the SDS structure and systems across the university. Two university-wide SDS staff have been added, âshe wrote. âFour additional SDS positions were recently transferred from part-time to full-time, serving SPH, Homewood, Peabody, Carey and SAIS. Even more staffing enhancements will be rolled out in the near future.
She also described how SDS conducted listening sessions and surveys for students with disabilities.
âThis information is used to facilitate changes both systemically and within SDS,â Rosen wrote.
Cerilli reflected on the need for a more inclusive campus environment.
âI think that’s something we don’t really talk about on campus. Disability is not really very much included in our notion of diversity on campus, âshe said. âI haven’t found large spaces that are very inclusive yet, although there are individual times when people say, ‘Oh yeah, thanks for bringing it up. “”