Statement of Needs and Goals

This is WSDR's working document stating our priorities regarding accessibility on campus. Feel free to take a look, and please let us know if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions!


A Statement of Needs and Goals:

Addressing Accessibility on Campus

 

Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights—2009-2010—updated 2/8/10

 

 

I.               Introduction

Wesleyan University has a rich history of standing at the forefront of social movements in the United States. From the Civil Rights Movement to queer activism to labor politics on campus, organizing and agitation have long been a central element of what gives this school its unique identity. The most productive changes have occurred when students, faculty, and the administration work together to create a conversation around issues of privilege, acceptance, and visibility, rather than facing off in an oppositional debate. As members of the Wesleyan community, we would like to add our voices to this ongoing, evolving conversation.

We are Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights (WSDR), a student group founded in the Fall of 2008. Like any group of students, we pride ourselves on our differences, and the particular perspectives and skills they grant us. Unlike most groups, the differences of which we are proud mean that we experience the physical, emotional, and intellectual aspects of this campus in ways that most students do not. We are students with medically diagnosed or self-identified disabilities. We are students who are cognitively, physically, or emotionally different from our peers, with identities and conditions too numerous to list here. We are allies of all students who fall under the category of disability. Together, we are working to increase education, self-advocacy, and activism regarding all disability issues and concerns on the Wesleyan campus.  As the disability services consumers on this campus and their allies, we recognize that no one is in a better position than we are to advise the University on ways to improve its accessibility infrastructure. There already exists a network of systems to improve access and provide accommodations to students with disabilities, and we believe that we, as a school and a community, can do even better.

What we have compiled is a preliminary assessment of areas that must be addressed in order to help Wesleyan University become a more accessible campus, where every student may learn, develop, and thrive. As a new organization just beginning to establish our presence on the Wesleyan campus, we do not possess an exhaustive list of the needs and goals of students with disabilities at this school. We do, however, believe that it is crucial to begin the conversation with the information that we have so far. This is a dialogue that must take place both within the student body, and between the student body and the administration, so that we may all work together as members of a Wesleyan community to increase accessibility in every area possible.

 

 

 

II.             Structural and Residential Accessibility

a.     Floor plans for all campus housing

The Office of Residential Life currently provides a process for students with documented disabilities to receive housing accommodations. In order to streamline this process, it is a priority of WSDR that accurate floor plans of all campus housing, including woodframe houses, should be kept on file in the ResLife office. This will enable ResLife to more quickly assess whether or not campus housing can meet a student’s individual needs, or whether that student should seek off-campus housing. The availability of floor plans will make the accommodation process easier and quicker for both staff and students.

b.     Considering nontraditional accessibility in new construction

We advocate for the consideration of nontraditional accessibility needs in plans for new university construction. While mobility impairments and other physical limitations are often taken into account, the needs of people with sensory problems, people on the autism spectrum, and people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing are also important to explore and meet. These considerations include, but are not limited to, soundproofing, insulation, and lighting. We also propose the development of a more thorough checklist be for assessing accessibility issues in all renovations and new construction projects.  This checklist should include all uses and purposes of a space, and consider ease of access from every possible perspective within the Wesleyan community, including, but not limited to, those of a student, spectator, employee, and performer. This checklist should be developed in consultation between representatives from WSDR, Disability Services, Facilities Management, faculty, and Human Resources.

c.     Maintaining existing accessibility infrastructure

It is our goal that every Wesleyan student, regardless of ability, be able to access and enjoy every space on campus. We understand that in recent years, the University has greatly increased accessibility in academic and residential spaces, and that physical plant is continuing to evaluate and improve all spaces on campus. We hope to work closely with physical plant to meet needs before they arise by assisting in the preemptive evaluation of bathrooms and building entrances. We applaud the University for the vast strides it has taken in recent years towards a more accessible campus, but want to emphasize that there is still work and continual evaluations to be done, and that accessibility should be a priority when assessing renovations and small-scale physical plant projects.

 

III.           Academic Accessibility

a.     Statement of accommodation policy

We ask that all professors include the following statement, or a similar one, in their course syllabi:

Students with Disabilities: It is the policy of Wesleyan University to provide reasonable accommodations to students with documented disabilities. Students, however, are responsible for registering with Disabilities Services, in addition to making requests known to me in a timely manner.  If you require accommodations in this class, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible [during the nth week of the semester], so that appropriate arrangements can be made. The procedures for registering with Disabilities Services can be found at http://www.wesleyan.edu/deans/disabilites.html.

The inclusion of this statement ensures clear communication between professors and students regarding academic accommodations, thus reducing last-minute accommodation requests and the associated difficulties for both students and faculty.  Furthermore, the public nature of such a statement can serve as an entry point for students who think they may need accommodations but are unsure of the proper channels or procedures.

b.     Disability awareness workshops for faculty and staff

We propose the creation of an annual workshop designed to provide faculty and staff with a deeper awareness of issues surrounding accessibility and disability at Wesleyan. These workshops would be created in conversation between WSDR, the Office of Disability Services, and the Office of Human Resources, and would provide professors and staff with an increased comfort level and vocabulary for working with students with disabilities. One potential method for administering these workshops would be for a presenter to come to a meeting of each department.

c.     Disability studies program

Disability studies is a new but established discipline, and we believe that students should have academic access to this body of knowledge.  We applaud those professors who have already included disability issues in their courses, and advocate for more such offerings.  Disability issues are relevant to many academic disciplines, and we encourage professors to expand their syllabi to examine these intersections. We also propose the addition of a "Disability Studies" cluster on WesMaps, to increase visibility of the discipline and help interested students find existing courses which address these issues.

 

IV.           Accessibility in University Admissions

a.     Information in the Office of Admissions

As the initial point of contact for every potential Wesleyan student, the Office of Admissions plays a crucial role in whether students with disabilities choose to attend Wesleyan. In order to foster the inclusion of people with disabilities, information regarding accessibility and accommodations on campus must be visible and readily available at the Office of Admissions, in both verbal and printed formats.

b.     Tour routes and guides

We recognize that student tour guides are currently trained to provide an alternate campus tour along an accessible tour route, and affirm the importance of this training. We propose that student tour guides should also be trained to provide basic information regarding accessibility at Wesleyan, rather than immediately referring visitors to a dean or administrator. This will help to provide a more welcoming impression of accessibility on campus, and work to dispel the silence that currently surrounds disability issues.

c.     Communication between prospective and current students with disabilities

We are committed to fostering greater communication with prospective Wesleyan students with disabilities, and believe that current students with disabilities can offer a valuable perspective on living with a disability at Wesleyan.  To this end, we propose that students with disabilities be invited to add their names and contact information to a list that could then be made available to interested prospective students.

d.     Nondiscrimination policy

We celebrate the inclusion of disability as a recognized minority status under the Wesleyan nondiscrimination policy and affirmative action policy. We also advocate for the inclusion of a statement that the university does not discriminate on the basis of neurology, as many people who identify as neurodiverse, neurodivergent, or neuroatypical do not identify under the term disabled.

 

V.             Accessibility at Health Services and The Office of Behavioral Health

a.     Access to therapy through OBHS

We advocate for a future in which OBHS will possess sufficient staff resources to offer every student seeking mental health care with unlimited therapy sessions, and foster therapeutic relationships with those students. Given present limitations, we ask that OBHS, with input from the campus community, compile and keep up to date information on all university and local resources for mental health consumers who experience common stressful situations, such as eating disorders, mental distress, and sexual assault.  We ask that every new client at OBHS be provided with written information about all relevant resources.  This would empower students to navigate on- and off-campus mental health resources, and maximize the effectiveness of those services.  

b.      Student Rights and Responsibilities Regarding Medical Leave

Students with many kinds of disabilities are affected by the policies regarding medical leaves of absence. We ask that the policies and regulations regarding all medical leaves of absence be clarified and made more accessible to the student body at large. While we understand that the decisions surrounding medical leave are highly individualized, concern confidential information, and must be undertaken as partnership between the student, the class dean, and appropriate persons in the Health Center or the Office of Behavioral Health, we ask that the general regulations and procedures be posted in greater detail than the information currently available on the Health Services and Deans’ Office websites. Although the specific process varies on a case-by-case basis, we ask that either the overall procedures and policies or a link to that information be posted on the websites for Health Services, the Office of Behavioral Health, and the Deans’ Office. While there is no process for appealing a medical leave decision, we ask that a link to the university policy on addressing grievances be included in the policy on medical leave.  This basic information should also be given, in printed form, to students entering the process of taking a medical leave, as students in this position are often in a state of distress and benefit from receiving the information in as many formats as possible. We also ask that conditions for return be made clear before the medical leave is initiated.

 

VI.           Social and Cultural Accessibility

a.     New Student Orientation

We recognize the importance of New Student Orientation in setting the tone for students’ experiences at Wesleyan, and advocate for the inclusion of more information about disability issues, for both disability services consumers and their peers.  We propose to develop an orientation workshop for students. This new workshop would equip incoming students to advocate for their own accessibility needs, act as allies to others, and foster a greater culture of accessibility on the Wesleyan campus.  Furthermore, disability-related information should be included in other orientation programs, such as those about achieving academic success, as appropriate.

b.     Web Accessibility

We applaud Wesleyan’s current efforts to make the University website as accessible as possible, and encourage further commitment to web accessibility as a University priority.

 

VII.         Identifying Further Needs and Documenting Progress

a.     Survey of physical campus

In order to more efficiently improve structural accessibility on the Wesleyan campus, we propose to conduct a survey of the physical accessibility issues on campus. This project would be a joint effort between WSDR members and the committees within the Wesleyan administration already focused on improving campus accessibility. We recognize that we are all deeply committed to this task, and believe that a cooperative effort between students and the administration is the most productive path forward.

b.     Student-response survey of needs and goals

We recognize that there are needs and goals relating to accessibility at Wesleyan that go beyond physical campus structures. We therefore propose to conduct a survey among the student body, faculty, and staff regarding perceived successes and gaps in overall accessibility at Wesleyan. This survey would be conducted by WSDR with support from the administration, and would serve to give everyone engaged in the development of Wesleyan as a comprehensively accessible campus a clearer picture of current successes, immediate priorities, and potential improvements..

VIII.       Accessibility as an Institutional Priority

a.     General fundraising

We recognize that Wesleyan, like the rest of the world, is currently feeling the impact of the economic downturn and facing budget cutbacks in many areas. Nonetheless, we advocate for the inclusion of accessibility-related expenses on the President’s list of budgetary priorities. In order for Wesleyan to reach its optimal potential, it is crucial that otherwise capable students, faculty, staff, and guests be granted equal access to its resources and be empowered to engage in its community, regardless of disability or impairment. Prioritizing fundraising for accessibility infrastructure in both short-term and long-term planning will facilitate much-needed renovations, support future construction, and enable Wesleyan to thrive as a university with a culture of accessibility.

b.     Disability Assessment Fund

There are students on this campus who most likely have a disability but cannot get their disability properly documented by appropriate practitioners because they cannot afford the expense. Some students have also been misdiagnosed, and face similar obstacles. We propose the creation of a University fund to help students pay for appropriate professional practitioners to document their disabilities. This would enable students to get examined or evaluated in order to receive appropriate support services.

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