[Seminar Blog] Getting the Help you Need! Accessibility and Disability Service at University of Maryland
written by: Lasair ni Chochlain, Eric Hartel
Addressing the varied needs of graduate students as not only learners but also researchers and teachers is a complex job. The University of Maryland and the Department of Entomology are doing their best to tackle this issue head on in 2023. To learn more about how the disabilities of graduate students are accommodated at UMD, we invited the Director of Accessibility and Disability Service (ADS), Tessa Cahill, to come to the Entomology Dept. colloquium to present “Disability Compliance and Accommodations: A Graduate Student Experience.” Tessa is the inaugural director of ADS, which is currently going through a period of growth and expansion to better serve the campus community. These changes are the result of an an external review by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and support from UMD’s Administration that has led to ADS hiring more full-time staff and expanding their reach across many departments. By embracing this review and the changes ADS has made, the University of Maryland has been able to provide a significant increase in support. Improved communication between counselors, students, and faculty is also helping to standardize and improve the quality of services offered. Tessa first spoke about “how we got here” on a national level and then about the role and services of ADS on the university level.
The background information provided by Tessa demonstrated how ADS fits into the larger picture of ensuring access to the campus community. Laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities are part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the “ADA”. It defined a disabled person as an individual who “has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, an individual who has a record of such an impairment, or an individual who is regarded as having such an impairment.” The law has been updated several times since it was originally signed in 1990, expanding ADA protections by redefining “disability” in clearer terms, and helping to strengthen these laws and protections. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it seemed like the ADA (as defined by Supreme Court rulings) was not doing a good job of protecting disabled people. In fact, between 1992-1997, the ADA had a negative effect on the employment of disabled people. Advocacy by disability groups led to the most major update, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), signed in 2008, which broadened the narrow definition of disability imposed by the Supreme Court. The expressed goal of the most recent update to the ADA (2016) was to make it easier for an individual to demonstrate to their school and/or place of work if they have a disability. It stated that “the question of whether an individual’s impairment is a disability under the ADA should not demand extensive analysis and ruled “that the comparison of an individual’s performance of a major life activity to the performance of the same major life activity by most people in the general population usually will not require scientific, medical, or statistical evidence.”
Thanks to the ADA, disabled college students are eligible for education and entitled to accommodations that allow access to that education. The University of Maryland is working to empower students with disabilities to pursue advanced degrees and support their class and research work. The goal of establishing ADA accommodations is to ensure equitable access to educational resources for all students, while not decreasing or removing essential functions or reducing performance standards. Students do have to provide documentation to establish their eligibility with ADS at UMD, and the process is described below.
Establishing eligibility with UMD Accessibility and Disability Service
To establish eligibility for services with ADS, students must first register according to the following protocol:
Establishing eligibility for ADS accommodations during this interactive process often requires students to meet regularly with their disability counselor. Adjustments and interactions are led by the student’s own self-advocacy. In some cases, accommodation requests may be denied if they are unreasonable, have no correlation to the functional limitations of disability, or conflict with safety or professional standards. Yet once accommodations have been established, students can always ask for changes or modifications as the nature of their graduate work changes. What accommodations are needed or used can change with the nature and intensity of work, and the ADS specialists can always reassess and provide additional support as needs change. Students are also under no obligation to disclose the nature of their disability to faculty instructors or supervisors. Should students choose to disclose this information, UMD policy requires faculty instructors/supervisors keep these disclosures confidential. Students with disabilities who are not satisfied with their approved accommodation(s), are having issues receiving their accommodations or have additional concerns can appeal the decision by emailing the Assistant Director of ADS (Cassandra Lytle, email@example.com) to schedule a meeting. If a student’s concern is not resolved through informal resolution, the student may file a written appeal to the University’s ADA/504 Coordinator, Emily Singer Lucio. More information on the ADA Complaint Resolution Procedures for Students with Disabilities can be found here.
Tessa shared that ADS is eager to help faculty and supervisors (including graduate students, as a TA or otherwise) support their students. Instructors and supervisors can contact ADS at any time to consult about a student, advisee, or personal need. They will be connected to someone who can provide targeted guidance on how to appropriately implement accommodation. Anyone can contact ADS if they are unsure what style of accommodation would be appropriate for their students or if they have questions about implementation. ADS is very helpful in providing examples of how different requirements can be achieved to meet students’ broad needs. While a student is not required to and should not be forced to explain their disability to their advisor, an advisor can ask how best to implement the accommodations needed to best suit the work.
Covering the costs of accommodation can sometimes be challenging for faculty working to provide equal educational access to all students. There are resources available at many levels to ensure graduate students and faculty can meet the needs of their students. Some resources are provided by the University of Maryland to students registered with ADS for free, including (but not limited to) exam proctoring, certain software (Glean, Dragon) and alternate text translation services. However, if ADS or Environmental Safety, Sustainability, and Risk (ESSR) recommends a piece of equipment (like an accessible desk), or additional salaried labor as accommodation for disabled students (for example, to accommodate relief from certain physically demanding duties in the lab or field), there are not always established funds. There are options within the University of Maryland System to address these funding requirements. Financial responsibility for employment-based accommodations first falls to the department, but if financial resources are lacking at the department-level, funding may be available at the level of the college, university, or even the State of Maryland government.
“Amendment of Americans with Disabilities Act Title II and Title II Regulations to Implement ADA Amendments Act of 2008”, A Rule by the Justice Department on 08/11/2016. Federal Register, The Daily Journal of the United States Government. National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/08/11/2016-17417/amendment-of-americans-with-disabilities-act-title-ii-and-title-iii-regulations-to-implement-ada
“Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, As Amended”, ADA.gov, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. https://www.ada.gov/law-and-regs/ada/
“Consequences of the Americans with Disabilities Act”, National Bureau of Economic Research, No. 1998, December 1998. https://www.nber.org/digest/dec98/consequences-americans-disabilities-act
“The History of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a Movement Perspective”, Arlene Mayerson, 1992, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. https://dredf.org/about-us/publications/the-history-of-the-ada/
Lasair ni Chochlain is a 2nd year PhD student in the Hamby lab, interested in plant-insect phenology, food security, crop diseases, climate change, sustainability and the environment, and disability advocacy as well as diversity, equity and inclusion generally. If you are a graduate student with a disability and would like to get connected to some of your peers, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Hartel is a 2nd year master's student in the VanEngelsdorp lab studying honey health and the stressors on colony health. Science communication and extension are important to me and my work as a scientist.
ADS Location and Contact Information
0106 Shoemaker Building
301-314-7682 –Front Desk
301-314-7625 – Deaf and Hard of Hearing Unit
301-314-7217 – ADS Testing Office
301-314-7958 – Adaptive Technology Lab
** The ADS Online Portal can be found at: email@example.com
ADA Coordinator Emily Lucio: firstname.lastname@example.org