The Disabled Student Union (DSU) released a survey on March 10 in an effort to better understand the experiences of students with disabilities at LC, and found there is a significant need for accessibility improvements. The survey also assessed the current capacity of the administration and on-campus resources such as Student Support Services (SSS). The DSU released the survey through ASLC: 78 students responded, 61 of whom were self-identified students with disabilities. The survey was conducted anonymously.
Through analyzing the survey, the DSU found that about half of respondents that identified as having disabilities have reported accommodations to SSS. One of the DSU student representatives Nicole Lewis ’21 noted this statistic in particular, because it means that there is a significant population of students with disabilities at LC who forgo having documented accommodations.
“Just in the past year, since joining the Disabled Students Union, I have known a handful of people who have been forced to transfer or drop out from the college due to lack of accommodations relating to their disability, whether that be mental, emotional or physical,” Lewis said via email.
The survey was divided into five components: general disability questions, mental/emotional disability questions, physical disability questions, demographic questions and short answer questions. Respondents reflected on whether they thought that LC has adequately supported their mental, emotional or physical disabilities. They were also asked if they felt their peers and professors were understanding, supportive and accommodating to their individual disabilities. Lastly, participants were able to express any questions, concerns and ideas for accessibility improvements, as well as future activities, resources and events they would like to see from the DSU in the future.
The survey revealed that many students with disabilities reported that support from the administration and access to on-campus resources need to be greatly improved.
“Overall there is a definite divide between many disabled students and the administration because how the needs of our community, being a minority on this campus, are being overlooked and disregarded in many aspects,” Lewis said.
Lewis elaborated on many difficulties students with disabilities face at LC.
“There are just certain things on this campus like the lack of food for people with allergens, inaccessible food service hours, fees and long wait-lists at the counseling center, lack of support from Student Support Services and few automatic doors and elevators that make life for disabled students increasingly difficult,” Lewis said.
Lewis believes that not only do on-campus resources for students with disabilities need improvement, but there needs to be a systematic change in the way the administration interacts with students with disabilities. In a previous article, Lewis explained how obtaining accommodations can be a strenuous process.
“I know that it’s very difficult for disabled students to get accommodations, because you’re required to have a doctor’s note and that can take a lot of time and lot of money,” Lewis said. “I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to receive care, especially if you need to go off campus because that involves transportation, that involves coordinating health insurance. There are so many outside factors that go into even working with your disability.”
Not only is the process of getting accommodations from SSS difficult, but once students actually obtain accommodations there is no outside enforcement for professors to adhere to them. In the same article, DSU President Sarit Cahana ’20 spoke on her personal experiences with professors not adhering to her accommodations.
“They don’t know what I can and can’t hear,” Cahana said. “They think that my hearing aids do all the work, when that’s actually not true. They don’t encourage other students to speak up. They don’t repeat what students say, which is all in my accommodations letter.”
Cahana expressed the importance of the DSU as an inclusive space.
“Disabled students often feel very isolated because this campus ignores our existence most of the time,” Cahana said. “This survey showed how many accessibility problems there are on campus and we’re going to continue to work hard to do as much as we can. I think the Lewis & Clark community will become more aware of the problems affecting disabled students on campus and we can have a better idea of how to effectively serve this community as a union.”
Associate Dean of Students, Director of Student Support Services and Title IX Case Manager Kayleigh McCauley commends the DSU’s effort to enhance campus inclusivity.
“I am excited to continue working with representatives from the DSU to continue to improve the experiences of our students here at Lewis & Clark,” McCauley said via email. “Sarit Cahana and I regularly communicate both over email and in-person. I am extremely grateful for her ongoing partnership and look forward to our future work together.”
Based off of the data the DSU will write a resolution in coordination with ASLC. They are also considering writing an open letter advocating for specific changes in how the administration accommodates and approaches the needs of students with disabilities. The DSU hopes that the needs of everyone in the LC community are welcomed and respected by all members of the administration and student body. The DSU is currently looking for people interested in leadership and involvement for next semester. If interested, reach out to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.