Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2021

Disability isn't taken seriously at Hopkins

By LAUREL MAURY | August 29, 2021

dgubounq

FILE PHOTO

Maury recounts experiences of discrimination, mistreatment and silence at the hands of University affiliates. 

During my time as a graduate student in the Engineering for Professionals (EP) program, I’ve had nine Hopkins professors. Only two have provided the disability accommodations the University promised. The kinder ones treat accommodations like a courtesy they’re free to ignore. Others fear I’m an unreasonable, politically correct bomb about to go off, as if accommodating the disabled is fairness gone too far.

Only one treated me like a person.

Before COVID-19, EP was horrid for disability, but endurable. Since the pandemic, my classes have been unendurable even when everything’s working right.

My Zoom lip-reading is crap, and the University’s live captioning is hit-or-miss, so although I attend class, I can’t do the assigned work until I have transcriptions. Before and after COVID-19, almost every professor I’ve had that used audio/video has submitted material late for transcription.

Not only days late. Weeks, months. Never.

Now my classes are Monday or Tuesday night on Zoom, with an assignment based on the week’s material due the day of class the following week. My professors describe how to do assignments during online office hours every Thursday.

Zoom transcripts from class can arrive within 48 hours, sometimes even 24, or can take up to 72, with no transcription occurring over the weekend. So transcripts from Thursday office hours often arrive Monday or Tuesday the following week, meaning I don’t receive the office hours transcript until the day the assignment is due — or the day after.

I’m not brilliant enough to do my work in 20 to 40% less time than the other students and without access to the office hours material. This isn’t equal access; it’s structural discrimination.

Prior to the pandemic, sometimes I could get extensions when Hopkins screwed up my accommodations. Now I mostly can’t. Last semester, my professor submitted a lot of material for transcription late — I even waited up to 10 weeks after the original material was assigned to get the transcription.

This past semester, my disability coordinator told me a Zoom session I had attended, that was never transcribed, actually hadn’t occurred. And she wouldn’t acknowledge it was a problem that transcripts can arrive the day the assignment is due — or the day after, even when professors submit them on time. I got stroppy. She ghosted me.

I’ve found that no matter how badly Hopkins treats you as a disabled student, you should never act angry or upset. They’ll use it as an excuse to ignore you.

Some examples from before COVID-19: Another accommodation Hopkins approved for me is that when teaching in person, my professors are expected to wear a lapel microphone that streams directly into my hearing aids. My Data Structures professor wore it inconsistently, even after I contacted the department to complain. Finally, after I threatened to use my old journalist contacts to write about it, the professor complied.

Two others didn’t want to face forward when they lectured — my Computer Architecture professor refused in writing, and my Algorithms professor defied a direct request from a lawyer in the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), the University’s civil rights arm. 

My Algorithms professor also liked to tap my streaming microphone, which hurt my ears so badly, I had to take out my hearing aids — which is a real personal violation. I believe he started in protest because he didn’t like my department asking him to face forward. I asked him to stop. He wouldn’t. I regard this as physical abuse.

I’ve told several administrators, but there’s been no response.

A group of conference-goers at the Applied Physics Lab (APL), seemingly drunk, tried to kick me out of a private room during a midterm. (APL offers beer and wine at some events.) I talked them into going away. They came back and tried to kick me out again. One of my accommodations is a private testing room, but because APL is somewhat open to the public, I endured two years of random people wandering into my exams before Hopkins agreed to a proctor.

My professors have outed me as disabled to groups of 75 to 100 students without my consent by talking about my accommodations during lecture in three separate classes. My disabilities are invisible; I’m a fairly private person, and I believe their behavior is against federal law.

My Software Engineering professor once screamed about my disability so loudly, the whole floor could hear. After he discussed my streaming microphone during lecture without my consent, I asked to speak with him in the hall and politely asked him to stop. In response, he got in my face and screamed about his academic freedom — saying he had every right to discuss my disability in class. I scanned the exits, afraid he’d hit me.

After that incident, I reached out to Student Disability Services (SDS), who had already worked with the professor to ensure he’d provide accommodations and follow proper policies. SDS was more upset that I used the word f**k in an email than that I’d feared for my physical safety.

In my experience, going to SDS is a bad idea. My Computer Architecture professor seems to have turned on me after a conversation with them. I believe the screamer blew up at me because SDS annoyed him before class even began.

SDS doesn’t seem to be able to control professors, and they don’t listen to students. The one time SDS followed up, they asked the professor — a guy who’d refused in writing to implement an approved accommodation — how things were going in class. They never asked me.

So I decided to work only with my department’s disability coordinator. That also hasn’t gone well. At the end of February 2021, I told her I believed my Computer Architecture professor had bullied me during an office hour. (See clip, incident starts around 4:05.) I never heard back.



About two years ago, Hopkins quietly changed the complaint process for students with disabilities. We can no longer file complaints with OIE. Students facing disability discrimination can only complain within the University’s own disability framework, which doesn’t appear to include any outside accountability. At least OIE publishes blanket statements about the kinds of cases they receive.

This policy change effectively bars disabled students from the University’s own civil rights process, so that disability discrimination isn’t treated as a civil rights violation at Hopkins. This stance tracks with how SDS has treated the issues I’ve had — as if they’re small inconveniences with no moral dimension, and my anger is simply me being silly.

It’s likely that my problems are a small representation of widespread systemic and individual ableism (disability discrimination) at Hopkins. Discrimination the school doesn’t want to admit exists.

Like other universities, Hopkins tracks the graduation rates of women, Black people, Native Americans and other groups, but I haven’t found a single college that tracks the graduation rates of disabled students. I don’t think colleges and universities care what happens to us. If they did, they’d track us. They’d ask us about our experiences.

My reality is that never once have I seen a visibly disabled student in a classroom at Hopkins, not even in a photo.

My professors know nothing of disability rights under the law until they violate them and I go to the administration. Hopkins admits I need academic accommodations but not that my academic performance may suffer if I don’t receive them. 

It’s that I suffer retaliation when I stand up for myself. It’s that I’ve dropped courses, without refund, because I fell critically behind due to the University’s accommodation failures. It’s trying, again and again, to convince professors to implement the accommodations Hopkins says I should have.

I’ve seen no evidence that the University has tried to normalize disability in the classroom or even cares what disabled students think.

Normally I wouldn’t write publicly about my disabilities, but Hopkins has essentially outed me to my workplace. Because EP is one of the most popular information technology (IT) master’s programs in Maryland, many of my classmates work for companies or clients in my field, including for my own firm.

Due to Hopkins EP’s classroom indiscretions, my world now knows I’m disabled. So I believe the moral thing to do is warn others — if you’re disabled, avoid EP. 

Perhaps be careful about the rest of Hopkins, too.

Laurel Maury is currently a graduate student in the Hopkins Engineering For Professionals program. She works in IT in Maryland.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

News-Letter Special Editions