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Council for Students with Disabilities Town Hall Exposes Frustrations on Campus

The Undergraduate Government of Boston College and its Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) hosted a town hall Sunday featuring Assistant Dean of Students with Disabilities Rory Stein. Over the course of 30 minutes, Stein shared his own frustrations as much as students shared theirs, specifically touching on how little pull his office has been able to exert at BC during his tenure.

Audience members spoke directly to Stein, who fielded questions about his office’s capabilities, day-to-day operations, and issues with accessibility on campus. The rest of the evening, which functioned as UGBC’s penultimate general meeting, revolved around making plans for the remainder of the academic year.

The town hall was the first event in CSD’s “Ability Awareness Week,” which will run until Saturday and recognizes CSD’s 20th anniversary. Other events will include a speech by the first-ever CSD chair, a SoulCycle event, and volleyball practice for the Special Olympics.

Stein began by appealing to the civic-mindedness he had seen at BC and by giving a brief overview of his role. He said that his primary responsibility is to ensure that students with impairments get reasonable accommodations in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He pointed to examples, such as note-takers, extended exam times, reserved single dorm rooms, and wheelchair accessibility.

Throughout the town hall, Stein was both friendly with the students—calling on many by name—and honest.

One audience member asked Stein if he was “satisfied” with his department’s work on campus.

“I think it could be a more robust department,” he said, “We have 600 students registered. I’m a one-person office. I feel as though if we had more support, we could actually individualize certain aspects for each accommodation.

“For instance, it’d be great to have somebody who handles note-taking alone … another person who could specialize in wheelchair accessibility, [and] another who can be on the technical side, making sure the course websites are accessible according to web content. I feel like there’s a whole part of Disability Services that can be compartmentalized. And I feel like we could do more on that.”

Several students also asked about the specifics of his job, with a special focus on what he was—and more importantly, wasn’t—involved with on campus.

Prompted to speak about his involvement with Capital Planning, Stein explained that the biggest barrier by far is money.

“We had a suit in 2015, where we just found out that BC wasn’t providing as much wheelchair accessibility to certain buildings as they could,” Stein said. “And so BC has gone through, building by building to make sure that they’re up to code and the wheelchair accessibility is there.”

As part of a follow-up question, somebody asked Stein about his involvement with new buildings—which Stein then described as minimal.

“I haven’t been included so far,” he said. “But it becomes clear to me as these things arise that I should be. I know that they have to build buildings up to code, and there are certain ADA regulations that they have to meet. But I agree, I also heard that they are cutting corners in some situations and Capital Planning has been aware of some of the things that have happened.”

He also critiqued the lack of mechanical doors on campus. Giving a particularly egregious example, he complained that one of the areas in McElroy Commons has one entrance at the top of some stairs—rendering it effectively useless to people with disabilities.

Stein addressed his upcoming agenda as well, noting that he would like to spend time looking at housing, specifically the availability of single-person dorm rooms for sophomores, juniors, and seniors for students with disabilities. He pegged the number of such rooms at about 17, which he said has become especially strained as the number of mental health disclosures rise.

He commended different on-campus student-run support groups for those with chronic illnesses and physical conditions, adding that he hoped to start one for mental health with the assistance of University Counseling Services.

Both audience participants and Stein speculated on potential reforms that could occur, especially after several in the audience described that they felt like “outcasts” at events like football games or Showdown.

One such suggestion involved the hiring of BC students for a work-study program. Stein said his department currently employs a handful of graduate students from the Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

Eagle Escort was also a topic of interest, with several students noting that they experienced long wait times and felt that the two-a-day limit was marginalizing. Stein promised to take note of their suggestions for van tracking and an app that could help drivers stay organized and efficient.

Asked how he could work to expand his office, Stein joked that “begging and pleading hasn’t worked so far,” before describing his plan to submit a report on the shortcomings he has seen in his time at BC.

Featured Image by Jack Miller / Heights Editor

April 11, 2019

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