When Heaven Jackson, sophomore, tore her Achilles’ heel at cheer practice Feb. 14, the adult present did not move to help or offer her a ride home because “it did not seem like she was hurt,” according to Jackson. “She basically made it look like I was exaggerating the pain or it wasn't important because I wasn’t screaming and everything,” Jackson said.
Due to her injury Jackson has joined the reported 11 percent of undergraduate students with disabilities, according to a 2015 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics.
As Jackson navigated campus for the past month, she experienced first-hand the ways disability is addressed as an afterthought. “Some of my classes, some of the buildings they have ramps but no buttons, or buttons with no ramps. You don’t really notice how inaccessible the school is until you get on wheels. It just sucks.”
The day after the accident DePauw Health Services gave Jackson a prescription for crutches from Kroger. “It seemed like at first they were kinda iffy about it too... But then once I went in there and they saw like ‘oh sh*t this is something important.’ Then they started being helpful,” Jackson said. After mentioning that she had no way to get to Kroger, Jackson received a pair of crunches from DePauw Health Services.
The Wednesday after her injury Jackson received an email from Campus Living and Community Development (CLCD), saying that she had until Friday to move out of her room on the third floor of Leis to the first floor of Strasma at the recommendation of Health Services. However, they failed to offer assistance for her to move her possessions.
After her interactions with Health Services and CLCD, Jackson reached out to Meggan Herrald Johnston, director of Student Disability Services, who informed her that everything regarding her situation was supposed to be going through the Disabilities Services office. “She was really helpful. I had to go to her a lot,” Jackson said.
Even after Johnston became involved in Jackson’s case there was still miscommunication. Despite the fact that CLCD was supposed to extend her time to move, when Jackson returned to Leis after studying in Roy O. West Library late that Thursday night, her student ID would not work at the door because she was expected to have moved into Strasma by then. “I don’t know what was happening between the groups...everyone's on different pages with everything,” Jackson said.
This semester, DePauw University has switched to a digital system to track services to students with mental or physical impairments, like visual impairments, dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. While Jackson only experienced a temporary injury, she is also included among students protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The system, called Accommodate, replaces a paper system and, in many ways, is an improvement. In the past individual emails were sent to professors at the beginning of each semester and for exam proctoring—which is the most common accommodation, according to Johnson—students had to fill out individual paper applications and get the professor's’ signature for each test.
Now students create one account which holds all of their medical forms semester to semester and contacts teacher with the click of a few buttons. “It’s really a one-stop shop,” Johnston said.
But even with this new electronic system, concerns remain.“I think that the way that we think about and interact with disability on this campus needs a lot of improvement and I don’t think technology is the primary fix for that,” Derek Ford, assistant professor of education studies, said.
Ford noted that about one student in each of his classes has a disabilities but choose not to go through Disabilities Services for a number of reasons. According to Johnston, an estimated 100 DePauw students—about 5 percent of the total student body—use DePauw’s academic accommodations while nationally 11 percent of undergrads reportedly have disabilities, according to a 2015 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics. Because of this, Ford offers an alternative: he tells students that they can go through the Disabilities Services office or they can meet with him and he will make accommodations the best he can.
Johnston describes the process used by Ford as “universal design” and believes the university should be moving towards it as a whole. “Essentially, universal design is that curriculum, syllabi, the physical space in the classroom, (and) lectures would be designed in a more diverse way to simply be more accommodating so people would not have to come out and register,” Johnston said. “If something is good for a person with a disability it might be good for everyone.”
Voice-to-text is a common example of technology designed for the disability community that has been utilized by everyone.
Ford views accessibility as problem for most of higher education. “Basically, we are just enforcing a norm and then the accommodations make, sort of, exceptions to that norm,” Ford said. “Often in really base or rudimentary ways, for example, one hour of ‘normal students’ time is one and a half of a ‘non-normal student’s’ time… Where as if you have a more open system you can accommodate more ways of know and more ways of relating that knowledge to the professor.’”
In Johnston’s two years at DePauw, she says she has seen progress as more faculty work to accommodate students within the classroom. “I’ve seen growth. I’ve seen (faculty) say rather than having a student come (to Disabilities Services) to take their exams with extended time say ‘I’m going to provide it right there in the classroom.’ It's better for the students. I’m seeing those little things happen, that’s universal design.”