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Kington appoints College Disability and Accessibility Task Force

In light of the array of discussions and concerns voiced during the first town hall of the 2014-2015 academic year, President Raynard Kington recently appointed the Disability and Accessibility Task Force for the purpose of making Grinnell accessible for all members of the campus community.

The task force includes a combination of faculty, staff and students committed to making Grinnell as inclusive and welcoming as possible.

“The main goal of the Task Force is to educate, promote and change major policy surrounding disability. In doing so we hope to reach students, staff and faculty,” wrote Task Force member Jen Brooks ’15 in an email to The S&B.

At the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, school administrators hosted several listening sessions and a town hall meeting on disability and accessibility. The issue was highlighted as extremely pressing, and thus was selected as the subject of this year’s first town hall so administrators could assist students who face obstacles in accessibility. During these events, members of the campus community expressed their concern regarding inclusivity on campus.

This feedback inspired Kington to hire expert disability consultant Tom Thompson to determine the accessibility of the campus and provide suggestions for increasing inclusivity. Thompson has worked extensively in helping colleges meet the guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Thompson found Grinnell’s campus to be more inclusive than those of many institutions but still found areas that are due for improvement in the report he wrote for the College.

“The mission of Disability Resources and Services (DRS) is ‘to provide leadership and facilitate equal access to all institutional opportunities for students with disabilities.’ To accomplish its mission, DRS must perform three duties: provide institution-wide advisement, consultation and training on disability-related topics, including legal and regulatory compliance, universal design and disability scholarship, collaborate with partners to identify and remove barriers in order to foster an all-inclusive campus and provide individual services and facilitate accommodations to students with disabilities,” Thompson wrote in his report.

In addition to his general guidelines, Thompson provided the College with a lengthy list of specific suggestions for improvements to increase accessibility, which Grinnell administrators found to be very useful.

“I was glad that he was really interested in looking at the campus on all levels, operationally, culturally and then down to procedural level things,” said Joyce Stern, Dean for Student Success and Academic Advising and Co-Chair of the task force.

Having recently set out on its list of goals, the Task Force’s members intend to focus on outreach and education on disability and accessibility from the different resources and experiences that they’ve accumulated. In particular, the Task Force intends to increase awareness of the struggles that can often be invisible to their peers.

“One of the things we realize that we need to do is continue to build awareness on campus,” Stern said. “We are wrestling with … how we get the information out there to people who do need it.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 29, the Task Force hosted a student disability resources open house to begin outreach and to provide information about services and the new disability resource space in the Academic Affairs suite, located on the third floor of the JRC.

The event also introduced students to Coordinator of Academic Support and Assistive Technology Angie Story and newly appointed Coordinator of Disability Resources, Autumn Wilke.

“[The open house] is another way to build the knowledge base and help people understand what’s going on. Together [Wilke and Story] are really a focal point for disability-related resources,” Stern said.

Throughout the open house, the team provided demonstrations for students on the various programs and technologies available to them. The space is equipped with a broad range of resources including audio books, document conversion and speech to text programs and a braille station stocked with a converter and printer. Most programs are available for computers and can be accessed by students through the GrinnellShare website.

Story stressed that the range of resources is for everyone. 

“It’s not just for students with accommodations. I have a lot of things that are more universal so any student can have access,” Story said.

Enlarged text keyboards are now available in the JRC. Photo by Chris Lee.
Enlarged text keyboards are now available in the JRC.
Photo by Chris Lee.

The task force hopes to host future sessions for students throughout the year to continue outreach and access to disability resources.

“In the spring we will try to do more sessions so that students who can do drop in, but they are always welcome to come any time,” Story said. The lab will be open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with additional hours from 5 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

The task force is also preparing to host a presentation for faculty on Friday, Nov. 21 with Karen Boutelle, the Associate Director of Landmark College Institute for Research and Training, a four-year institution whose student body is composed solely of students with disabilities. Stern believes that their example of inclusivity will be a model for Grinnell’s campus.

“As they think about designing courses they are always thinking about them being universally accessible. We are trying to take away some of their design ideas to see … how much of that could be applicable at Grinnell,” Stern said.

At the moment, the task force is busy processing Thompson’s suggestions and student and staff input. Soon, they hope to use this wealth of information to formulate a more concrete plan of action.

“We are still … surveying the landscape. We are sifting through [student and staff] input, the consultants input and then our own knowledge about what is that we could or should be thinking about in regards to disability and accessibility,” Stern said. “In the meantime though, our ears are still open and … if students have ideas about things that they would like to see happen we are ready to listen.”

Input from the campus community has been one of the greatest sources of information guiding the group’s agenda, particularly student input.

“I believe that student’s input is the most important part of this Task Force and any committee on disability. The students are the ones that are living these decision everyday. They are also the ones that know what they need best,” Brooks wrote.

The Task Force will continue to work throughout the year, and any changes that require greater planning or financing beyond the scope of the Task Force’s resources will be recommended to Kington at the year’s end.  The members are excited to implement change and make a difference in the community.

“I’m really excited about the Task Force. I think Grinnellians in general like to see changes making things better … it’s nice to have a presidentially appointed Task Force that has the authority … to do some things that need to happen on campus,” Stern said.

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