Special Interest Groups (SIGs)


Several members of the ADA SIG presented Investigating the ADA Complaint at the AHEAD Conference in Orlando in July, which was a topic of great interest, particularly as more and more ADA Coordinators are coming to the national conference. Presenters acknowledged that when a complaint becomes external (OCR, private attorney, other outside agency), our option at that point is reactive and we respond to queries as requested. However, there are often many opportunities to address student ADA grievances internally. This presentation focused on getting the internal investigation process started and offered a flow chart, along with a step-by-step outline for progression, as well as a number of sample forms/templates and redacted cases from the institutions represented by the presenters. The flow chart, outline, and some of the templates are now located on the AHEAD website, under Grievance Procedures on the ADA SIG webpage: https://www.ahead.org/sigs/ada-coordinators.

During the presentation, attendees walked through an actual investigation, following the process outlined in the flow chart. Upon receipt of a grievance, it is important to begin documentation immediately; an investigation log template was included and is also available under the ADA SIG resources. After acknowledging receipt of the grievance and beginning the log, the investigator must then determine the category of the complaint to determine next steps. In this discussion, categories were separated into three distinct sections: Physical Barrier; Personal Treatment (Failure to Accommodate/Attitudinal Discrimination/disability-based harassment); and access prevention due to Policies/Procedures. These categories were chosen based upon the separation of steps involved for investigation.

The team reviewed main ways to provide accommodations: (1) Reasonable accommodations, such as extended time; (2) Provision/allowance of auxiliary aids and services, such as recording devices; (3) Alteration to policy/procedures, such as an allowance for an emotional support animal on a “no-animals” campus. They also covered basic classifications for denial: Fundamental alteration of course objectives, undue burden, and/or direct threat; all of which need to be defendable. Additionally, they discussed the importance of a written decision, as well as any potential alternate resolution that may assuage concerns; and included the need for due process and an appropriate appeal process for all relevant parties.

Following the presentation, the ADA SIG met and discussed the potential for an ADA SIG track at next year’s conference in Albuquerque, NM. Brainstorming resulted in a plethora of individual session options that could easily become a track. ADA SIG Co-Chairs, Emily Lucio – Johns Hopkins University, MD, and Gabriel Merrell – Oregon State University, OR, offered the idea to AHEAD planners and the topic is currently generating interest. If confirmed, ADA SIG members will be asked to collaborate on presentations for the track. Stay tuned!

Presenters included: Enjie Hall – University of Toledo, OH; Kristin Lue King – Lone Star College, TX; Peter Ploegman - National Louis University, IL; and Tina Vires – Winthrop University, SC. Brian Bigelow – University of Louisville, KY, also contributed to the development of the flow chart.  


Perspectives of the Office of Accessibility/ADA Compliance Officer and the ADA Coordinator’s Office at Winthrop University

Submitted by:

Tina Vires, Program Director, Office of Accessibility; and the ADA Compliance Officer

Frank Ardaiolo, Vice-President for Student Life & Associate Professor; and the ADA Coordinator

Winthrop University (WU) houses distinct and merging, collaborative roles in the realm of disability services. The Office of Accessibility (OA) works to provide appropriate access for bright college students who happen to have disabilities. Its name has transitioned over time, from Student Disability Services, to Office of Disability Services, and, just over a year ago, to the Office of Accessibility. The latter the result of a survey of stakeholders, particularly connected students, which revealed a strong desire to move away from the term “disability.” As most of us would affirm, students connected with OA present with a sundry array of physical, learning, psychological, and other disorders. In the past two years, students self-identifying with psychological disorders have increased over 200%.

Although a much smaller campus than OSU, WU has also seen a dramatic surge in the number of students who connect with OA. Three years ago, OA worked with close to 4% of the student population; this past year, over 7.5% self-identified with the office. 

The ADA Coordinator partners with the ADA Compliance Officer to develop and update university-wide disability policy, disability-related dispute resolution, and accommodation training including accommodations for students, facilities, and visitors to campus. During the 2016 Election season, Winthrop hosted all national presidential candidates on campus and the OA was instrumental in ensuring appropriate access to the vast array of visitors during these events.

The Program Director/ADA Compliance Officer’s View:

It is critical for the OA and the VP/Coordinator to work together toward the common goal of earned student success. At WU, this has been a natural process, with a consistent sharing of ideas and brainstorming solutions when accommodation requests morph from the “plain vanilla;” think: I need extended time on tests, to the “gourmet customized;” think: I have narcolepsy and may delete my assignments in my sleep. Two and a half years ago, we collaborated to draft Winthrop’s first Emotional Support Animal Policy, and continue to work together to tweak this and other policies, as needed. Either of us may also be called upon to consult with Human Resources (HR) regarding employee accommodation needs, particularly when a student is in a dual role as an employee. Respect and willingness to consult about accommodation concerns are essential between these offices as well as all others on campus. As we increase diversity and include individuals with disabilities in that population, we are seeing more people who need accommodations in all departments on campus; students and employees.

As the ADA Compliance Officer, I am usually the first responder to a student’s ADA Grievance. I conduct the investigation and maintain a thorough log of the process. Once I write and deliver a decision, the relevant parties have 15 days to appeal the decision to the VP/Coordinator. If a grievance is toward someone within either of our chains of command, we are recused and HR conducts the investigation, but may consult with either of us. The investigation process requires a rigid timeline, so it is imperative to be respectful of all students and personnel, when arranging interviews and devising strategies to either remedy a discriminatory offense, or to provide an alternate resolution, such as in cases where there is not obvious discrimination, but matters may need to be resolved under another course of action. Training is often a part of any remedy, and I am typically called upon to provide that educational piece.

The ADA Coordinator’s View:

For the last twenty-nine years, I have served as the ADA and Section 504 officer for my medium sized public institution.  Prior to this, I supervised the disabilities service unit of a large state university that had a nationally significant research component in its school of education.  Teaching occasionally in the higher education graduate program at that university’s school of education allowed me to establish ongoing relationships with nationally known special education professors, thereby providing the perspective of cross-functional collaboration and respect.  Why is this important? As Winthrop’s ADA compliance officer reports above, “It is critical for the OA and the VP/Coordinator to work together toward the common goal of earned student success.”

When I first arrived at Winthrop, I was immediately struck by the lack of Section 504 structural accessibility for students with mobility impairments. Our director of facilities understood this but always backed off installing improvements because of the constant demand on scarce funding resources.  I opted for an alternative to strident legal demands (to this day, Winthrop has no full time in-house legal counsel). My solution was a simple one. I asked our well-meaning but funding scarce facilities director to do this VP a favor by sitting in a wheelchair for one hour, while he and I moved about campus from building to building.  This one-hour experience emotionally imprinted on him the need to install accessible automatic door openers on nearly every building entrance door across our 40 building, 6000 student campus.

Another major challenge in my early years involved helping faculty understand the then evolving concept of being a successful college student with a learning disability. Many faculty articulated this as a contradiction in terms. Please note these first few years on campus afforded only a part-time student affairs staff member to assume the then labelled disabilities service coordinator position with dual minority student services responsibilities.

Through such interactions, I learned the following four attributes, distributed equally among my management skills, contributed to this ADA Coordinator’s success: Cognition of the laws, common sense, concern for details, and courage.  The conversations on accommodating students with learning disabilities were intense. I became a resource agent for faculty conceptually attempting to adapt their pedagogy to new knowledge delivery techniques and legal requirements.  A newly hired, full-time Disability Services Director whose job was to assist and advocate for students, spent untold hours through the years teaching faculty how to be effective in fulfilling new federal mandates. Eventually most came to understand these expectations as right and just.  A key to professors accommodating willingly was a vast supply of good will that must be nurtured.

Today, we have a parallel issue in responding as we did to the learning disabled (a term I rarely ever hear used today), adapting to the service and emotional support animals among us. The laws and regulations appear permeable. We have many students expressing the need for service animals according to their own self-diagnoses who are also incapable of caring for their animals in residence halls designed only for students. This coupled with intentional fraud offered by web sites certifying need have led to some explosive encounters.  In time, we will receive more guidance through case law and our national associations’ recommendations of best practices.  In the meantime, I believe cognition of the law, common sense, concern for details, and courage, dispensed in equal doses, will prevail.  We may also need to add a fifth attribute to our ADA coordinator’s toolbox: diplomacy.

When the ADA compliance officer and the coordinator view their positions as doing best for both the faculty and students, each one plays off the other becoming “force multipliers,” reaching all stakeholders and constituencies across a university. “It is indeed critical for the OA and the VP/Coordinator to work together toward the common goal of earned student success.”


Disability Studies SIG

Submitted by Susan Mann Dolce and Karen Pettus, co-chairs

The Disability Studies Special Interest Group met at the AHEAD annual conference on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 from 12:45 – 1:45 pm, fourteen people attended. We started off by going around the circle we were sitting in and introducing ourselves and our interest in Disability Studies. We then had a lively discussion about the role of Disability Studies in AHEAD and why how Disability Studies concepts could be more integrated into the work of AHEAD. Because we were at the conference and there was so much focus on the law we discussed how to meaningfully integrate disability studies concepts into more presentations as opposed to having it be a “special” category.

We discussed the importance of research to educate faculty and one member discussed her research about Cultural Centers in Higher Ed.

We briefly discussed Eli Clare’s new book Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure.

Amanda Kraus suggested we focus on concrete things the DS Sig might do to elevate DS concepts at AHEAD. We briefly spoke about AHEAD history related to Disability Studies including Project Shift and work prior.

The meeting ended with a suggestion to:

  1. Create a webinar for administrators regarding disability studies concepts and the law.
  2. Communicate more effectively with DS SIG members once AHEAD establishes new platform.
  3. Share review of Eli Claire’s book and possible reading group organization.
  4. Submit Conference proposals that include Disability Studies themes and information.