College gets grant for disability education

by Kathleen McDermott | 2/29/00 6:00am

Dartmouth, in partnership with Columbia, Brown, Harvard and Stanford Universities, has been awarded a three year, $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to educate faculty and administrators about "non-visible disabilities" among undergraduates and to assist professors in creating a more inclusive instructional environment.

Approximately five percent of Dartmouth students have non-visible disabilities, such as psychiatric disorders, chronic illness and learning disabilities, according to Academic Skills Coordinator Nancy Pompian. Such disabilities often make it difficult for students to keep up in their classes.

Although there are accommodations currently in place for such students, in accordance with the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, the "current model perpetuates the segregation of people with disabilities rather than demonstrating inclusive access to higher education."

The grant, titled "Universal Access * Dumbing Down: Stigma, Pedagogy, & Elitism," aims to change education to a more inclusive model and to help students with disabilities on the premise that "what's good for students with disabilities is good for everybody," Pompian said.

Many students with disabilities, even if a professor announces he or she is will accommodate these students, are reluctant to ask for accommodations out of a sense of stigma, and often wait too long to ask for help, Pompian said.

Under a "universal access" method of instruction, barriers for students with disabilities are eliminated, not just accommodated.

"Would we as professors use a teaching/learning method that would put the majority of students at a disadvantage?" he asked. "So why would we use a method that would put students with disabilities at a disadvantage?"

Universal access does not involve lowering course standards. Pompian claims that through creativity on part of the professors, it is possible to be inclusive and keep standards high.

Since being awarded the grant at the end of December, Dartmouth has surveyed the faculty to assess what direction the grant will take. Future plans may include workshops, curriculum specialists or handbooks to help faculty learn about the disabilities and better serve their students.

Pompian will coordinate the grant's activities at Dartmouth, while Columbia's Disabilities Services will coordinate the grant as whole for all five colleges.

According to a Columbia University press release the grant "was collaboratively developed by disability service directors as an outgrowth of the work of the Ivy Disability Consortium."