With Disability Awareness Month taking place, Wellesley is focusing on the word “disability,” which has recently been called into question by some who find the term insensitive or unrepresentative of their condition.
Jim Wice, director of Disability Services, has been trying to bring more students into the discussion about whether Disability Services should consider changing its name. He is currently investigating Wellesley students’ perspectives on the issue through monthly Disability Discussions open to all students and faculty. He is also using a survey released to some groups on campus, such as students currently being served by Disability Services, asking members of the community whether or not the name of Disability Services should be changed.
Wice commented that although they need the services offered by the office, not everyone may identify as having a disability. A possible alternate name being considered is Access and Disability Services, or just Access Services.
“I have a sense that a lot of our students, I don’t feel, consider themselves as having a disability. Some do, but some don’t but still need the services. I’m curious if there is a better term, and if there is, will people still be able to find us?” Wice said.
Wice attributes the current focus on using correct language regarding disabilities to societal and linguistic changes in recent decades. Wice, who has worked at Wellesley for over 15 years, wants to make sure that he is adapting to language used in a progressing society.
“Over time, language has changed, and I want to be respectful if people are noticing a change because there are so many other things in language that are changing,” Wice said.
To be more respectful of those with disabilities, Wice suggests the use of person-centered language. He recommends putting people before their disability and not labeling people based on their disabilities. Rather than using “disabled person” or “schizophrenics,” the preferred alternatives are “person with a disability” or “people who have schizophrenia.” He adds that as society evolves, language also changes, recalling the use of the word “handicapped” when he was younger.
Wice hopes to engage more staff, students and faculty in future discussions, possibly featuring linguistics experts, to find a solution to the name change. He adds that he does not intend to make sudden adjustments.
“I’m not looking at this like it’s a quick survey — let’s do a change or not do a change. Let’s take our time; there’s no rush. I think if we do make a change, let’s do it for the right reasons,” he said.
Some students feel that they are not qualified to speak for or against changes in the name. Natassja Haught ’18 expressed that, since she is not part of the community with disabilities, she was unable to provide an appropriate opinion for either side.
“Along with this topic, I feel like I’m not qualified to speak on this actual concern, and a lot of people at this table said the same thing. Unfortunately, when we all believe that we aren’t qualified, sometimes the issue can be ignored,” Haught said.
Disability Services serves students, staff, faculty and guests. The core services offered are cyclic through the school year, including setting up for orientation every year by organizing services such as housing accommodations and assistive technology. Around 200 students are served by the office each semester.
Wice hopes that raising awareness will help people better understand disabilities and create a more welcoming environment. By providing information and hosting various events around campus, Wice aspires to make individuals with disabilities feel less isolated on campus.
Estefania Lamas Hernandez ’16, a current intern working with Disability Services, finds that awareness at Wellesley is important because of the diverse nature of disabilities. By increasing awareness, members of our community may be more comfortable communicating their needs.
“It is crucial for students and community members, including faculty, staff and dining hall staff, to feel comfortable expressing their individual needs and have those met and supported,” she said.
She notes that there are different forms of disabilities, including visible ones that may hinder mobility and invisible ones that affect mental health.
“A lot of times, individuals with disabilities feel like they’re the only person on campus. Not everybody discloses [their disabilities],” Wice said.
Last year, Disability Services emphasized attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and mental health, which are themes that Wice would like to carry over into this school year as well. Other than continuing the discussion on learning disabilities and mental illnesses, they are also considering collaborating with the Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center (PLTC) on the topic of laptops in classrooms for note-taking.
Earlier in the year, Disability Services sought to promote awareness by offering training sessions to student leaders. Wice emphasized the importance of including accommodations when planning campus-wide events, including keeping Disability Services’ contact information on spam or asking about food allergies and labeling foods.
The College now has a ADA/504 Committee, which oversees and works on issues concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973, to make sure that the College is in compliance with all of the regulations. The group’s primary concern is to look for and remove any architectural access barriers that could hinder members of the community from accessing certain parts of campus. The removal of barriers could include adding anything from Braille to signs, curb cuts to sidewalks and levers to doors. The committee is currently under training to identify these barriers and hopes to begin working to remove barriers this spring.
In addition, Disability Services seeks to promote local events. Last week’s Disability Discussion on intellectual disabilities featured Wellesley’s Best Buddies chapter, which pairs Wellesley students with individuals in the community that have either intellectual or developmental disabilities. In the past, the group has involved members of the Charles River Center who work in the dining halls and the Campus Center. Other events during Wellesley’s Disability Awareness Month included White Cane Day on Oct. 8, and Power Wheelchair Soccer Tournament on Oct. 12, as well as an upcoming screening of “Lives Worth Living” today at 6:30 p.m. in the Science Center.
Lamas Hernandez mentions that the community can become more involved by showing support through social media, particularly on the Wellesley College Disability Services’ Facebook page and through their presence.