Letter to the Editor: Student Accessibility Support
To the Editors,
I’d like to take a moment to address some of the concerns raised in the recent Justice editorial about the implementation of academic accommodations and of extensions on assignments in particular. I also want to share that, on a personal and professional level, it was disheartening to read that some students feel that Student Accessibility Support is not committed to accommodating students. I hope to communicate how earnestly and deeply committed we are to that mission. As a person with an invisible disability myself, I am committed to access and I want to understand student feedback in order to improve our practices and students’ experiences on campus. When an accommodation is not being implemented appropriately, we hope students will tell us right away so we can help ensure their access.
In reference to the statement that SAS “instructed department heads that if they give an entire class an extension on assignments, students with accommodations should not expect any further extensions and would need to make a case as to why they should receive one,” no such communication was sent to department heads. What students may be noticing is that some courses are implementing the possibility of extensions for all students, not just those with extensions as an accommodation, and students may be feeling like extensions as accommodations should automatically go beyond those that are made available to other students. Building in the possibility of brief extensions for everyone is a feature of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) geared toward helping all students have some additional flexibility. This raises access for everyone, without negatively impacting students who already had extensions as an accommodation. UDL supports students who have disabilities but may not have connected to SAS yet. It also supports students who have to work to fund their education, students with family caretaking responsibilities, and students facing unexpected emergencies or hardships. This does not negate extensions as an accommodation, it just extends their benefit to others who need them but don’t have a formalized way of getting them.
In classes where some extensions are already allowed for everyone, that often satisfies the implementation requirement and the intent of the extension accommodation, which is to give students flexibility when symptoms/impacts of a disability interfere with their readiness to meet a deadline in a way that can’t be planned for in advance. However, in cases when medical emergencies, symptom flares, and other impacts necessitate additional accommodations, SAS is here to help navigate those conversations with instructors. Additional extensions are granted in many cases and not in others depending on the assignment and circumstances, but students do not need to be alone in opening that dialogue.
SAS also offers executive functioning and assignment planning support to help students minimize the need for extensions when ongoing disability symptoms/impacts consistently make deadlines a challenge, not just in the case of emergencies. Students can set up regular meetings with their accessibility specialists by contacting them directly or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and can also set up assignment support meetings with the SAS Fellows by using their booking calendar.
I want to encourage all students, including the editorial board, to please communicate to SAS if we can ever be helpful with making sure accommodations are implemented in classes. There are times when some accommodations will work in some classes but would fundamentally alter other classes and may need to be adjusted for a specific course. When this occurs, neither SAS nor faculty can simply disregard the accommodation. Instead, we need to work together to make sure students have equitable access to class and can still meet the required learning outcomes. We aren’t able to help with what we aren’t aware of, so as soon as someone has a question or concern about their accommodations, we encourage them to reach out to us. They are always welcome to contact a staff member they already know directly, contact our general email at email@example.com, reach out to Director Cara Streit at CaraStreit@brandeis.edu, or call the front desk at 781-736-3470. We also encourage students who want to anonymously report an accessibility issue to use the reporting form on our website so the issue can be addressed.
Above all, I want to clearly communicate how important student access is to us at SAS and to me, personally, and I am always happy to engage in dialogue about the support our office offers.
Cara Streit | Director of Student Accessibility Support