Over the summer, Boston College started making improvements across campus to increase accessibility for students with disabilities. In addition to the physical changes, BC also launched a new website to centralize information that students with disabilities might need. Although these are positive improvements, some students and faculty still have concerns that have not been addressed.
A complaint against BC is currently under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The existence of such a complaint does not necessarily mean that the University is not complying with its responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act—that determination will be made by the OCR after an investigation has been carried out. It is concerning, however, that students’ issues with disability accommodation and their frustration with administrators has reached the point where resolutions cannot be reached internally. This is less a referendum on the actual state of accessibility at BC than it is commentary on the attitudes surrounding the issue.
It is important to note that while institutions receiving federal funds, like BC, cannot discriminate on the basis of diversity, it is not legally required to make changes that would fundamentally alter a program or impose an undue burden. Still, for BC to uphold its oft-cited values—its inclusiveness and focus on service to others—it must make clear that it is seriously committed to being accessible to all students, and follow through on that commitment.
The new accessibility website is a positive step in this direction for the University—coalescing and streamlining all information relevant to accessibility, as well as placing the links prominently on BC’s homepage, sends the message that the school is concerned with granting all students access and that resources are available to those who need them.
A website alone, however, is not entirely sufficient. Other, more tangible steps, such as making publicly known the goals to improve accessibility across campus, can and should be taken in order to accommodate students with access needs better. The Disability Services Coordinating Committee, composed of administrators and staff members from across the University, is one such move—the existence of such a committee has the potential to create real change in procedures and attitudes.
More transparency is necessary surrounding the work that BC is doing to improve, though. Last year, the Connors Family Learning Center worked with approximately 450 students with learning disabilities, and the Disability Services Office within the Dean of Students Office worked with about 275 students with various physical, psychological, medical, and temporary disabilities. The needs of each one of those students ought to be addressed—and if they are not in fact being met, students should be able to see what efforts are being made, and in which areas.
Significantly, students are also working to address the indifference to and ignorance of disability issues at BC. Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion Martin Casiano and former UGBC senator Dan Ibarrola, both A&S ’15, are committed to advocating for students with disabilities. They plan to spend the semester gathering information by speaking with students who currently have disabilities, and determining the best ways to raise awareness and initiate discussions. This is a small step, and one that might not immediately yield visible effects, but it is important nonetheless. In order to change the attitudes toward disabilities on BC’s campus, the broader student body must be involved. In light of the recent BC Ignites forum on mental health and illness, an iteration focused on disabilities or a similar event would be a good way to bring the conversation into the open. In addition, the work of the newly formed Disability Awareness Committee to organize events on its own should further expand the discussion.
In matters of diversity and inclusion, student advocacy alone will never be enough. Nor will an administrative response, carried out behind closed doors and in isolation from those whom it impacts, suffice. As with all matters in which the quality of life of historically underrepresented groups is at stake—GLTBQ students, AHANA students, female students, those with mental health issues—the situation of disabled students will only improve if the student body and the administration both make it an obvious and active priority.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor