Much of the Wellesley College community has limited contact with the Office of Disability Services. Its presence is most noticeable in “acc: jwice” at the edge of posters and when people to include disability accommodations in publicity material. However, there are other individuals in the Wellesley College community who rely on Disability Services for a wide range of support.
According to the Office of Institutional Research’s 2015 Enrolled Student Survey, 13 percent of the students surveyed reported having one or more disabilities. This survey demonstrates the need for strong and comprehensive support for members of the college community who have disabilities, which include not only students, but also faculty, staff members and visitors for special events.
Jim Wice, Director of Disability Services, elaborated on the crucial role Disability Services plays on campus.
“We help all of those individuals to have access to the campus. We help facilitate access. Sometimes it’s using accommodations, sometimes it’s sharing information, other times it’s raising awareness so that people feel more welcome,” Wice stated.
For students, Disability Services offers a variety of different resources depending on the individual’s disability. The most commonly requested accommodations include extended time on examinations, provision of assistive learning technologies and transportation both on and off campus.
Wice also shared how the support offered has helped individuals with disabilities access a wider variety of academic courses. For example, for the hearing impaired, the office offers support for cued speech, a type of sign language that uses hand movements combined with mouth shapes for communication.
“We had two students who used cued speech. They were both deaf, and by using cued speech they were able to take classes in foreign languages. One of the students took Spanish, another student took Chinese and German,” said Wice.
Venid Velarde ’19 felt that the support rendered has been integral to her experience at Wellesley thus far.
“My experience has been great. I have been driven by the disabilities van since last semester, and I find the driving program so helpful and crucial for my health. The drivers are extremely nice and helpful and make the experience more enjoyable,” Velarde commented.
Such a comprehensive framework requires extensive partnerships with multiple groups, including individual students and larger group organizations. For example, Disability Services works with Wellesley Fresh and Health Services to ensure proper food labeling and nutritional support for those in need of meal plan accommodations. Disability Services also works in collaboration with students to hire in-class note-takers for academic support, and with the Wellesley College Police Department to supplement the transportation services that Disability Services provides especially in the evenings and on weekends.
Besides working to provide accommodations for individuals on campus, the Office of Disability Services also aims to advocate for these individuals and increase awareness of disabilities. Wice also drew attention to the events that Disability Services is involved in organizing for this semester, such as conversations on disabilities in different cultural contexts.
With the support of College Government’s Senate Policy and Ethics Committee, Disability Services enacted a new SPAM policy in fall semester 2015. Previously, all electronic and physical on-campus advertisements had to include the notation “acc: jwice” to inform the campus community of accommodations that can be made via the Office of Disability Services. Under the new SPAM policy, all publicity material must clearly include a reference to contact the director of Disability Services for disability accommodations, as well as the contact number and email of the Office of Disability Services.
“We created a disability services email address and thought that it would be better with ‘disabilityservices’ than ‘jwice.’ Maybe I’m less popular, some people won’t see me on the posters, but maybe other people will know. Sometimes the outside folks, if you are advertising for a big event and it’s going outside of Wellesley, I think that’s where people may not know where to go [to request accommodations]. And it’s more than one person involved anyway, it’s a team,” Wice said.
Besides working with College Government, Disability Services also supports student groups such as Wellesley Voices for Disability. This organization, founded four years ago, seeks to provide a community for students with different kinds of disabilities on campus, as well as to increase the level of dialogue on campus about disabilities. The group is in the process of publishing a newsletter for this semester and is working to recruit Disability Representatives for each residence hall.
“We had hoped to get a Disability Rep in every dorm, but we were pretty thinly spread on West Side, for whatever reason. The Disability Reps are meant to advocate for disability issues in their House Council and to serve as support and [as a] point person for the students with disabilities in their dorms. Students should be able to go to them with questions and concerns,” said Kate Puzzanghera ’16, who is involved with Wellesley Voices for Disability.
While current accommodations are largely comprehensive, some feel that more could still be added, especially in terms of academic accommodations.
“I think we need to take a look at academic policies and create a real dialogue between the professors and the students over accommodations. Policies around absences can really end up being problematic for students with mental health challenges or chronic illnesses. Some departments do better than others in how flexible they are in terms of accommodations,” Puzzanghera said.
Despite the variety of resources that Disability Services offers, Alyssa Rivera ’19 drew attention to the need for Wellesley to continue making its campus more accessible. For her CS230 class, Rivera and her team did a project informing users of the fastest route to take to class. They realized that adding accessibility options was a difficult task, owing to the many stairs and steep hills present on Wellesley’s campus.
“I think that Wellesley has an obligation to create a more accessible and diverse space because the college has the privilege of the necessary resources, because all voices should be heard in our community and because institutions like Wellesley provide such quality education that people of all abilities should have access to so that we can all change the world,” Rivera said.