Bowdoin will hire an additional employee who will be fully devoted to accommodating students with disabilities who will start next year, pending Trustees’ approval of the budget this May. Additionally, the College will create a testing center in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library where students who receive academic accommodations such as extra time will be able to take exams.
The new developments respond to calls from students with disabilities who, over the past three years, have sought to start a conversation about disability at Bowdoin, laid out specific demands for more resources for students with disabilities and have shared negative experiences in receiving accommodations themselves.
The College is in the process of developing a job description for the assistant director of accommodations for students with disabilities and it hopes to hire somebody with a background in disability services to start by mid-August.
“Their position will be located in the testing center and they will have a lot of responsibility for getting that test center up and running,” said Lesley Levy, the director for accommodations for students with disabilities.
The new hire and testing center accompany a number of smaller changes to accommodate people with disabilities. The College is close to finalizing a map, to be published online, that highlights accessible spaces and entrances on campus and is working on increasing signage that notes accessibility on campus. Information Technology has done preliminary work to create a lending library of technology—for example text-to-speech apps or smart pens—that make studying easier for some students who receive accommodations, and the office of the Dean for Accommodations for Students with Disabilities is in the process of acquiring software to automate the procedure for requesting accommodations for disabilities.
These changes are the product of the work of the Accessibility Task Force, which was reconvened and renamed in the fall after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Committee had not met for over two years.
The task force, comprised of staff from departments across campus, faculty representatives and three students, has used the demands of a student petition conducted last April as its roadmap. All of the changes currently in the works were outlined in the petition, issued by the Disabled Students Association (DASA), which is led by Daisy Wislar ’18 and Zoe Borenstein ’18.
“The petition has been a guidepost,” said Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer of the College Matt Orlando, who leads the Accessibility Task Force. “It was the first thing we reviewed as the task force committee. And [Wislar], Astrid [Self ’20] and Ana [Timoney-Gomez ’18] have been fantastic at helping us get student input on everything we’re doing.”
In addition to the developments mentioned above, the College hopes to make the new apartments to be constructed on Park Row fully accessible, according to Orlando.
There are also plans for the College to erect a ramp so that students can fully participate in commencement, which takes place either on the steps of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art steps or on a raised stage in Watson Arena.
This academic year is the first that Bowdoin has dedicated a director of accommodations for students with disabilities, the position which Levy now holds. Previously, the duties of that position had been only one element of a single dean’s set of responsibilities. Those responsibilities rotated between deans every two years. The appointment of a staff person fully focused on disability was one of students’ primary demands last spring.
Wislar, who has been active on disability issues throughout their time at Bowdoin, was recognized with the President’s Award, which honors a student who shows courage, imagination, and generosity of spirit. However with graduation approaching, Wislar is worried that students’ efforts to push the College to provide more comprehensive accessibility will dwindle.
“We are the last class that had a pretty negative experience getting accommodations. I don’t want we as an institution to forget about that just because the ones that were affected by that aren’t here anymore,” they said. “I’m spending a lot of energy right now on how we can make this memory live on.”
Mitchel Jurasek contributed to this report.
Correction April 29, 2018: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bowdoin would hire two new employees dedicated to providing accommodations to students with disabilities. The College will hire one new person this summer, bringing the total number of employees with this focus to two.