External report evaluates College's accessibility policy following lawsuit

by Lauren Adler | 11/8/19 2:20am

11-8-19-dartmouthhall-staffphoto

The College has begun implementing recommendations from a report written to address accessibility.

Source: Staff Photo

Following a lawsuit filed by an alumna, Dartmouth has participated in an external review of Americans with Disabilities Act infrastructure on campus and has implemented several changes to improve accessibility at the College.

Staci Mannella ’18, who has a visual impairment, filed a disability discrimination suit against the College in 2017 claiming that Dartmouth had failed to adequately accommodate her disability. The U.S. District Court of New Hampshire issued a consent decree last December, prompting an accessibility assessment of Dartmouth’s programs and facilities that was completed this October.

The report, compiled by representatives from Drummond Woodsum and Access 4 All LLC, found that “Dartmouth’s accessibility model at the undergraduate level … fell short in meeting a number of its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Both the number of students served and complexity of student accommodation needs contributed to these findings but were not the only shortcomings noted.”

However, the report also noted that “Dartmouth is implementing comprehensive systemic changes that will benefit not only students with disabilities but employees and visitors as well, thereby enhancing Dartmouth’s compliance with its legal obligations.”

The report applauded Dartmouth for quickly beginning to implement their recommendations, some of which were implemented before the report was published. Assistant dean and director of student accessibility services Alison May ’97 said the College began to develop a data management system to facilitate students accessing accommodations and expanded the availability the College’s Student Accessibility Services testing center. Dartmouth also implemented new grievance procedures for addressing alleged failures to provide reasonable accommodations, according to a College press release. 

May said she only joined Dartmouth’s Student Accessibility Services staff this term, but she said she has already worked closely with students and members of the administration to implement the report’s recommendations. While she was unable to give an exact timeline of the changes, May expects that they will mostly be in place by the end of the academic year.

May said she also believes that the College should implement some changes not explicitly called for in the report.

“I would love for Dartmouth to have some kind of an internal evaluation resource for things like learning disabilities, autism spectrum, attention deficit disorder, just to make sure that, that [testing] was convenient, that much more affordable, that sort of thing,” May said. “All of us in the office, we want to make sure that all students who need the access have the access, and that includes being able to be evaluated.”

Dean of the College Kathryn Lively wrote in an email to The Dartmouth that there were areas of campus accessibility that the report did not address.

“The report itself was focused on compliance and accessibility in the classroom, but there is a longer conversation to be had about improving accessibility outside of the classroom as well,” Lively wrote. “One of the big recommendations that we’re looking at is whether it would be possible, given the current constraints the College has around space, to put the entirety of SAS support services in a single location.”

Jessica Campanile ’20, the founder and president of the campus organization Access Dartmouth, said she believes that the report did not go far enough and said that she was unhappy with the consultants’ characterization of students with disabilities at Dartmouth.

“There was just this repeated language that talks about the incidences of disability at the College … they kept contrasting the amount of students with disabilities or students receiving accessibility services with the fact that Dartmouth is an elite institution or selective institution,” Campanile said. “And they kept using these words that suggested — at least in my and other students with disabilities’ opinion that I’ve talked to — kept suggesting that since we are an elite Ivy League institution, it just seems that in their minds it didn’t match up that there would be a ‘relatively high’ number with disabilities.”

According to Campanile, the report said that only 12.7 percent of Dartmouth students receive accessibility services, which is about half the national average. She said she was disappointed to see that the report apparently still considered this number to be too high for an institution of Dartmouth’s caliber.

“We see a lot of people who are struggling in an institution that was not built for their bodies and minds — and truly just never built with the idea that they would ever attend — struggling to have a full and comprehensive Dartmouth experience in a way that other students are given the resources to do,” she said. “I think there is an importance to thinking about disability as another minority group or marginalized group on this campus, but one that does not have the wide array of those legal-based and affinity-based services on campus as other groups do.” 

With regard to the implementation of the recommended changes, May said that the College has been productive in making progress.

Jessica Campanile is a member of The Dartmouth Senior staff.