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At Town Hall, Students Share Accessibility Struggles

The Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) hosted a town hall Monday night to discuss its initiatives and to learn more about the needs of disabled students at Boston College.

Mary Royer, chair of CSD and LSOE ’17, began the evening by outlining CSD’s current initiatives. Members of CSD are exploring ways to improve Eagle Escort, which currently only has two vans with usually just one in operation. Royer said that the vans can be slow to respond to a call and sometimes never respond.

Eagle Escort serves three important purposes, Royer said: routinely bringing students back and forth from St. Elizabeth’s to University Health Services, picking up students who feel unsafe, and transporting students with injuries or disabilities around BC’s campus.

“The resource—one van—does not meet the need,” Royer said.

CSD, which was founded in January 2015, is also working to make class syllabi more accessible to students by requiring faculty to post their syllabi prior to class registration. The Higher Education Opportunity Act mandates that professors upload a course schedule and required materials prior to class registration, but not all professors abide by this act.

“We think that this would be immensely helpful for all students, but especially for students with disabilities, who a lot of times have to preorder textbooks well in advance to make them accessible,” she said.

Most recently, CSD created an accommodations form for all Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) events. The form, which can be found on EagleLink beginning this week, allows students with disabilities to request certain accommodations at UGBC-sponsored events. Many of these accommodations are already available to students, Royer said, but the form makes students aware of these accommodations and allows them to make these requests prior to the event.

While the accommodation form is currently just for UGBC events, Royer hopes to eventually make the form available to students for every on-campus event.

Royer spent time discussing resources that are already available to students with disabilities. Such resources include mobility orientation sessions, course underloading, eTexts, and ASL interpreters.

Often, Royer said, students are unaware of such services.

“We are there for support,” she said. “We are knowledgeable about the resources that can be provided, the accommodations that should be provided, and we can provide students that information.”

Following traditional town-hall style, the students then split into small round-table discussions, with members of CSD leading the conversations.

Students began by reviewing the new accommodations form and providing feedback on it. Attendees questioned how UGBC planned on enforcing the accommodations forms—students worried that even if they submitted the form, their requests would not be fulfilled.

“We’re such a new council to UGBC, so we’re trying to make that mark on campus, and I hope that doing that will show students that there are people there for them and that there are advocates and support.”

—Mary Royer, chair of CSD and LSOE ’17

The conversation then turned to issues that disabled students continue to face at BC. One hearing-impaired student requested that faculty be required to show closed captioning if they are showing a movie in class.

Other students spoke in support of more accessible syllabi, saying that they often find it difficult to order special e-texts in time for class when professors post their syllabi just before classes start.

Another issue students spoke about during the discussions was the process of filing a grievance. A grievance is filed when a student needs support from Disability Services (DS) to attain proper classroom accommodations. One student explained that filing a grievance with regards to a certain class takes so long that he often chooses to change classes instead. He also said that he has had to drop classes and withdraw from classes because professors were not willing to make accommodations for his disability.

Students suggested adding another graduate student to the DS staff who could deal specifically with grievances.

When asked about whether or not they would like to have an advocate with them when meeting with professors and deans to discuss accommodations, the disabled students said it would be helpful. They suggested having a student from BC Law School come to advocate for them.

Students stressed the fact that the resources available to them are not adequately staffed—they asked for more faculty and graduate students in DS and the Connors Family Learning Center.

Students also discussed the accessibility of BC, citing places that are either easy or difficult to access.

Royer said that it is difficult for CDS to make major structural changes at BC because these changes require a lot of time, money, and planning on the part of the University. She also said that it is hard to locate the exact people to talk to about making such changes.

CSD’s largest role, Royer said, is to act as an advocate for disabled students. Conversations about being a disabled student at BC do not happen enough, she said, and CSD is there to promote such conversations.

CSD also works to educate students on the resources that are available to them at BC and to make them feel less isolated.

“I really hope that students don’t feel as though they’re alone or that they have nothing because there are people there, it’s just a matter of finding the best way to address what is wrong,” she said.

This town hall meeting was not the first that CSD has hosted. It held two last year as well. These meetings are important, Royer said, because they allow her to hear from the students about what is going well and what needs to be changed.

“They’re great for me because I get so much feedback from the community about things that I might not have already thought of or ideas that we never even considered,” she said. “It’s so immensely helpful, and I’m so happy with the turnout.”

Royer plan for CSD to host more town halls in the future to continue the conversations surrounding disabilities. CSD will also have a round table discussion during Love Your Body Week, the week of Oct. 24. The conversations will revolve around living with a disability at BC and beyond.

Most recently, CSD co-sponsored the solidarity march, which supported LGBTQ, AHANA, and disabled students, with the GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) and the AHANA Leadership Council (ALC). CDS is partnering with larger and more well-established UGBC councils, including GLC and ALC, to increase its presence on campus.

“We’re such a new council to UGBC, so we’re trying to make that mark on campus, and I hope that doing that will show students that there are people there for them and that there are advocates and support,” Royer said.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

October 6, 2016