Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 23, 2020

Students with disabilities criticize new accommodations system

By LEELA GEBO | September 26, 2020

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As part of the University’s One University initiative, Student Disability Services switched its system from AIM to Accommodate.

At the beginning of the fall semester, Student Disability Services (SDS) changed its user interface from Accessible Information Management (AIM) to Accommodate. Under this change, students requesting learning accommodations must email their professors directly; before, professors were notified of their students’ accommodations automatically. 

In an email to The News-Letter, junior Caroline Cerilli, who is hard of hearing, noted that labeling oneself as “disabled” can be difficult and having students reach out to professors individually places too much of a burden on the student. 

Cerilli added that this practice further exacerbates the differences between students who require accommodations and those who do not. 

“Accommodations are not ‘extra’ or ‘special’ — they are what allow students to have an equitable experience at Hopkins,” she wrote. “The power imbalance between the student and the professor is too great. We should not feel embarrassed or like a burden by asking for basic needs.” 

In an email to The News-Letter, SDS Executive Director Catherine Axe,  who oversees student disability services across all nine divisions of the University, explained that Homewood SDS switched to Accommodate as a part of the University’s One University initiative. Its goal is to create a standardized process for applying for accommodations at Homewood and the University’s other campuses. 

Axe believes that the switch to Accommodate will make it easier for students who are enrolled across different campuses to secure the accommodations they require. 

“Given how many students cross-register, earn dual degrees and return for graduate school, this should save students time and effort in securing accommodations as they study across schools,” she wrote. 

Junior Erika Wong argued that SDS should have communicated the switch better to the students affected by the new policy.

“I appreciate that they updated the interface because the user interface of AIM was kind of dated, but I am definitely not up to speed on how Accommodate works or how to use it,” she said. 

Additionally, Cerilli felt that it was unfair of SDS to introduce a new interface during a semester when so much else is changing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Cerilli requires auditory accommodations, which, in an online semester, come in the form of captioning on Zoom calls. She noted that, when it comes to securing accommodations, virtual classes introduces both technical and logistical issues.

“At the end of the third week of classes, I still don’t have captions on the majority of my professor’s lectures. Professors don’t know how to add captions. One asked me how to do it,” she wrote. “SDS has been planning to make this switch for a while now, but I would have preferred if it had waited until everyone had a chance to settle.” 

Her accommodation, she stressed, is not being prioritized. 

“I have an exam today and I still don’t have captioning, even after talking to the professor several times about it,” she wrote. “It has been really frustrating, and I feel like my ‘reasonable accommodations’ as defined by the [Americans with Disabilities Act] are being treated as a low priority.”

Axe acknowledged that the switch will be an adjustment for students and highlighted that SDS will be available for consultation and assistance if needed. 

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