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More Than Just Hills Challenge Disabled Students

Asst. News Editor

Published: Monday, April 30, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

This is the second in a three part series on student disabilities at Boston College.

Anyone familiar with the maze of staircases and hills that makes up Boston College’s campus would understand why a student with a physical disability might find it daunting. But this does not mean that students who have limited mobility, hearing, or vision do not attend classes and excel at BC.

For Paulette Durrett, assistant dean for students with disabilities in the Office of the Dean for Student Development (ODSD), helping each student maintain independence is a major part of his or her individual plan.

“I always encourage students to self-advocate,” Durrett said. “That’s part of this process. I’m not in the classroom with them, so I don’t own this process. I can’t just call up a professor and say ‘You should do such and such in your class.’”

Lily Clifton, A&S ’13, a legally blind student at BC, also believes in such independence.

“Really, I think part of the misconception is that there are no bounds,” she said in regard to what students with disabilities can and cannot do.

To this end, Durrett focuses on creating a plan for each student registered in her office and providing them with the accommodations they need to do well at BC.

“The work starts now to make sure that whenever we start classes, I’m prepared to go into the class just like any other student,” Clifton said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen, sometimes it ends up I’m a little behind, but it’s never anything monumental.”

Clifton, like many other disabled students, registers for classes in advance so that she can begin discussing her accommodations with her professors before classes start. These accommodations include getting extra time on exams and taking them in Durrett’s office, having books transformed into audio or PDF formats, getting a note taker, and using a laptop computer in class.

“That is always something that is non-negotiable,” Clifton said about using her laptop.

Students with other types of physical disabilities also have their own unique accommodations, and Durrett makes sure to find the best possible options for them.

“I have a student coming in in the fall who has cochlear implants, so I’m now doing research on a system where you put a microphone on the professor so that the student is able to hear it,” Durrett said. Part of this research included e-mailing a network of professors at other universities who have previously dealt with students with cochlear implants and can offer advice about how BC can follow a similar plan. “Now I don’t have to get too anxious about that because I know that that’s doable,” Durrett said of the system.

She also mentioned a student who has cerebral palsy and therefore has difficulties moving around campus. This student has the option of using police escort vans to help her get to middle campus for classes and back to her dorm at the end of the day.

“That whole accommodation piece is huge, and I’m really glad that I have help,” Durrett said of BCPD’s cooperation. “I don’t know how one person can do it alone.”

All BC professors are aware of the services Durrett’s office provides and have, for the most part, been accepting of the accommodations students might need.

“I would say now people definitely know we have an obligation to students with disabilities,” Durrett said. “It should say something about this office on every syllabus.” This way, professors, students who need accommodations, and students who do not need accommodations are all aware of this obligation.

Issues still persist, however. “Sometimes people kind of don’t understand the accommodations thing,” Durrett said.

Clifton said that she has had some misunderstandings with both professors and students because she must use her laptop during class.

“That’s been interesting, just trying to justify yourself,” Clifton said. “I think some people don’t have to deal with that. I need my computer. I understand it’s a privilege, and I wouldn’t take advantage of that.”

In addition, Clifton mentioned that some professors have not been responsive to her e-mails regarding her need to get information about the books and readings the class will use ahead of time. Because transforming a printed book into another format is such a long process, receiving information such as the book’s ISBN number, edition, and publishing house in May can define a student’s success or failure in courses that start in September.

“I’ve been really lucky with being able to be on top of things when the semester starts, but for some students, if they don’t get what they need, they may not pass the course,” Clifton said.

In cases such as these, it is up to the student whether or not to bring the issue to Durrett, who can discuss solutions and explain a student’s situation to professors. Yet there are some challenges facing students with physical disabilities that cannot be remedied by in-class accommodations or conversations with Durrett.

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