Students with disabilites demand better resources

By MORGAN OME and VALERIE CHAVEZ | April 5, 2018

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COURTESY OF MADELYNN WELLONS ADA’s demands were released following Mosser’s firing as SDS director.

The student group Advocates for Disability Awareness (ADA) released a list of demands calling for better accommodations and resources for students with disabilities on Monday. 

The demands follow the firing of Brent Mosser, the former director of Student Disability Services (SDS). Among their demands, ADA calls for the University to reinstate Mosser.

The News-Letter spoke with five ADA members, including sophomore Anthony Boutros, who explained why the organization decided to speak out now. 

“It was time for us to take our own stand and fight for the rights, the awareness, in addition to the accommodations, that we should be legally and morally guaranteed,” he said.

 

ADA’s demands 

This semester, Mosser was fired from his position for confidential reasons, a decision that upset many ADA members.

For junior Tina Nguyen, Mosser served as an advocate and a mentor for students with disabilities and helped them to communicate their concerns with the University. 

“He was kind of like our bridge with the faculty members, so we never thought we actually had to speak up,” Nguyen said.

Freshman Sabrina Epstein was disappointed that students were not consulted before Mosser was fired and criticized the University for its lack of transparency. 

“He was such an ally and a voice to us,” she said. “I would always email him directly, and clearly that’s not really a possibility anymore. It definitely should have been a step to alert students with disabilities, those registered with accommodations, of who to report to now.”

ADA’s other demands outline plans for initiatives that will make the campus more accommodating for students with disabilities, specifically by providing on-campus transportation, an official accessibility map of campus and a website where students can track when elevators and accessible door buttons are broken. 

They also call for improved resources, like a larger office for Student Disabilities Services (SDS) and increased staffing. According to ADA members, the current office is smaller than some study rooms in Brody and is often inaccessible since the office is on the third floor of Garland Hall and the elevator in the building is frequently out of service. 

Additionally, ADA demands the school increase staffing at the counseling center by hiring more therapists and psychiatrists that specialize in treating attention deficit disorders. They also want the Counseling Center to end a policy which limits students to a maximum number of visits per semester and implement a policy of never turning away students in need of services. 

Nguyen pointed out that the campus is not very accessible for those with physical disabilities and thinks that Hopkins does not provide the medical resources that are necessary for students with disabilities to succeed. 

“Hopkins is renowned for its medical programs and medical school, but you come to this campus and you’re like, ‘Wait, it’s not wheelchair accessible.’ There’s a shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists at the Counseling Center and there’s only currently one full time staff member at the SDS,” she said. 

The demands also include training and education for students, faculty and staff. ADA wants the University to require training for all faculty and staff that directly interact with students. They would also like disability awareness to be a larger part of student orientation, with pre-orientation opportunities specifically for students with disabilities. 

ADA members emphasized that educating students and staff could increase sensitivity and awareness on campus. Sophomore Madelynn Wellons said that providing trainings for students and staff would improve the culture on campus surrounding disabilities.

“I feel like it’s such a simple fix. It’s not a complicated problem. It’s that people need to know more and they need to understand us,” she said.

ADA also demanded that the school create coursework that discusses disability in the context of diversity. They stated that disabilities should be included as a central part of the Roadmap to Diversity and Inclusion, a document that outlines the University’s plans to make the campus more diverse. ADA also wants SDS to be added to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. 

“Currently disability isn’t really included in most diversity initiatives at Hopkins. It’s sort of pushed to the side in a way, and I think it really negatively impacts the climate around disability on our campus,” Wellons said. 

Members also emphasized that including students with disabilities in diversity initiatives will help raise awareness on campus for students with disabilities. Junior Chris Reinhardt emphasized that these demands are important to providing students with disabilities a voice on campus.

“Giving us a voice is actually very, very crucial. A lot of people who are able don’t think about accommodations,” he said. “If you don’t experience something, and if you don’t have problems with something, you’re not going to think that might be a problem for someone else.”

ADA is gathering signatures to support their demands through the “Petition to Reinstate Dr. Mosser and Improve Disability Rights at Johns Hopkins University.” As of press time, the petition had 530 signatures. 


Being a disabled student at Hopkins

While ADA’s demands detail specific plans and initiatives to improve resources for students with disabilities, their ultimate goal is to change the culture and environment on campus. For many students with disabilities, navigating Homewood Campus can be difficult, both in the physical challenges it poses and in the stigma that is present in daily interactions. 

“It seems really abstract to change these opinions on campus,” Epstein said. “It would really be excellent to have more sensitivity around the issue on campus. There’s a lot of concrete steps that can be taken to achieve that really abstract goal.” 

ADA members said that students can help change the culture at Homewood by being more aware and mindful of students with disabilities. Wellons recalled some trivializing remarks that students have said to her during her time at Hopkins. 

“I had people tell me that I was faking my disability to get a single [dorm] multiple times,” she said. 

Nguyen experienced similar situations in which students disparaged peers with disabilities. She hopes that students will be more mindful of their comments. 

“It would be nice for them to be more sensitive and not say things in bio lab like, ‘oh people with so-and-so disability are ugly on the inside and outside,’” she said. 

Some of those steps can be taken by students, ADA members explained. For example, student organizations can make their events accessible to all and provide a place for students with disabilities to request additional accommodations. 

Boutros, who has Crohn’s disease, is unable to eat certain foods due to dietary restrictions and said that this impacts many of his daily activities, including meals. 

“Disability is — on a personal level — something that is part of our diverse identity. Everyday we have to think about it; we have to manage it,” he said. “When I’m taking my medication, I have to think about it. When I’m ordering food for a certain class that provides food and they only bring pizza every time, how do I manage that?”

Reinhardt added that able-bodied students may not understand how difficult even the task of buying coffee from Brody Cafe is for someone with a physical disability. He said that the elevators are often out of service, which means that students have to take inconvenient alternative paths, going outside and around the library. 

“That’s about a half hour trip to get a cup of coffee, which is absurd. And all they need to do is fix that elevator and maintain it,” he said. 

Epstein emphasized that students should work to fight ableism, a form of prejudice and discrimination against those with disabilities, on campus.

“It’s not our disability that’s holding us back. It’s the ableism,” she said. 


Administrative response

In an email to The News-Letter, Vice Provost Kevin Shollenberger explained that he and other administrators have met with ADA members to discuss their demands and concerns. He wrote that they are committed to making the campus inclusive for all students.

Shollenberger stated that the University will work on addressing ADA’s demands but did not provide a timeline for when they will be met by. 

“We have already made progress on some of the Advocates for Disability Awareness’ concerns related to staffing, online scheduling, and community education,” he wrote. “We are currently working with a variety of partners, including the Office of Institutional Equity, and Facilities & Real Estate among others, to assess the best ways of addressing the remaining issues. We will remain in contact with students to keep them updated on our progress.”

Shollenberger did not respond to The News-Letter’s questions about why Mosser was fired or if students were consulted prior to the decision.

“As a matter of policy, the university does not comment on employment status or personnel issues,” he wrote. 

Mosser could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Shollenberger added that the University is working to fill the position of director of Student Disability Services. 

“Later this spring, we will launch a search for a new leader in Homewood Student Affairs to oversee disability support services for full-time students in the Krieger and Whiting schools, engaging students, faculty, and staff in that process,” he wrote. “Along with the new ADA Compliance Officer, this new leader will help implement recommendations from the consultants’ reports and respond to concerns of our students.”

In an email to The News-Letter, ADA wrote that they will not change their demands despite the fact that the University plans to begin searching for a new SDS director later this spring. 

“We stand by our demands, and are disappointed that the University chose to share this information with The News-Letter first, rather than publicly or with us,” they wrote. 

Boutros hopes that the demands will help the administration see students with disabilities as a primary concern.

“The point of this is to shift their priorities and say, ‘We’re tired. It’s our turn,’” he said.

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