Letter to the Editor

Making Dartmouth accessible.

by Alessandra Necamp | 3/28/19 2:00am

How embarrassing is it that nearly 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and nearly 10 years after then-Dean of the Faculty Carol Folt pledged to rectify this problem, Dartmouth still can’t provide an equal education to students with disabilities? Worse, it’s no surprise that Dartmouth is now forced to settle a lawsuit over this; perhaps the $3 billion “Call to Lead” campaign ought to be renamed the “Call to Pay All of Our Avoidable Legal Bills” campaign.

I attended Dartmouth 10 years ago and my time here was marked by the things that made me love it, but it was also a constant battle to receive the education I paid for and was guaranteed by law. Dartmouth has failed its students with disabilities for over a decade.

As a student, I was part of an effort to create a support group for students with disabilities when Student Accessibility Services failed to provide the accommodations we needed. We took matters into our own hands and held a workshop for faculty on ways to make their classrooms more accessible. Many of us were also quoted in a June 2009 article in The Dartmouth noting the lack of leadership at Student Accessibility Services and the hurdles that we students had to go through to get basic accommodations. This article was the key thing that got the College to change — not regularly complaining to College leadership, not workshops for faculty, not recommendations for better policies and procedures and an actual grievance process — but an article in The Dartmouth about our collective experiences and our mutual understanding that suing the College was our best and only option.

And for a while, it seemed like things might get better: as a Presidential Fellow under Dean Folt, I was assigned a project providing research, data, justification and recommendations for making the College accessible to all students. But I have no idea if anything came of the report.

Ten years later, the Mannella Protocol seems ignorant of the work of countless students, faculty and administrators and smacks of the College doing the bare minimum.

Where is the leadership? How many other students have been denied equal access and for how long? Will the Mannella Protocol reflect the needs of all students with disabilities or just one? How will the College make sure that all students with disabilities are heard, whether or not they have the wherewithal to sue? Why do these issues persist, year after year? How can Dartmouth issue a headline-making $3 billion “Call to Lead” yet refuse to take the lead on this? How is one of the best colleges in the world failing so dramatically? And how will the College know if the needs of students with disabilities are actually being met?

The Mannella Protocol is the College’s best attempt to put a pretty bow on a lawsuit that was entirely avoidable. Will Dartmouth truly lead, or will it repeat the cycle of promises, failures and lawsuits yet again?

— Alessandra Necamp

Necamp is a member of the Class of 2009

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