SDS neglects some requests of students with disabilities. Photo by Lauren Jindrich.
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Over 500 students at Butler are registered with Student Disability Services, SDS, located in Jordan Hall 136. SDS is available to students with a diagnosed disability, as well as those looking for guidance in seeking diagnoses. The office is designated to help students find accommodations that best suit their needs. Some accommodations students can seek through the office include assistance with note-taking, extra time for testing and course substitutions.
But as issues regarding accessibility become a more prevalent topic on campus, students have expressed frustration with their interactions with SDS.
Sarah Blade, a senior biology and classics double major, is vice president of BU Advocates for Autism. She was diagnosed with ADHD and autism her sophomore year at Butler.
When she first registered with the SDS office, the only accommodation she received was time-and-a-half for testing. Coming back this year, Blade requested more accommodations that would better suit her needs, such as deadline lenience and receiving professor’s notes. She said when she asked the SDS office about these additional accommodations, her requests were denied.
Blade said the SDS staff was not particularly helpful when she asked for accommodations with deadline grace, something Blade said would have helped her manage her ADHD.
“[A staff member] said, ‘since you technically have the syllabus, you have the same ability to turn in your assignments and succeed in class as the rest of your classmates,’” Blade said. “And at that point I was so shocked that I was just kind of quiet for the rest of the meeting. I felt like I knew at that moment I was not going to get anywhere so I just smiled and nodded until the [meeting] was over … The literal definition of disability is that I am not able to do things that people without my disability can do.”
Madelin Snider, a senior art and design major, was also diagnosed with ADHD and autism during her sophomore year. She said her disability often causes her to get overwhelmed and experience periods of extreme fatigue which makes it hard for her to process sensory input and focus in the classroom.
When she expressed this to the SDS office last year and requested certain accommodations, specifically focused around attendance, she was also met with pushback.
“They basically told me, ‘we don’t usually give attendance accommodations to ADHD and autistic students, but if you really want to talk about it, feel free to schedule a meeting with us,’” Snider said. “At that point I was still pretty deep in that fatigue, so I wasn’t going to waste my time going to a meeting where they were gonna tell me they weren’t gonna give it to me.”
When she started to experience fatigue again this fall, Snider reached out to the SDS office again, explaining exactly what she thought would help her succeed. She ended up making an appointment with SDS, but was upset at how she was treated at the appointment.
“[The staff member] basically said ‘I could never understand the level of fatigue you go through, I’m not autistic, I can’t say that I’ve experienced that, but I am an introvert, so when I am in social situations I still feel fatigue on a smaller level,’” Snider said. “She tried to kind of say, ‘I’m not trying to compare them,’ but you said it. You’re comparing them.”
Snider said the SDS staff member was not willing to accommodate her absences, or help her set up Zoom or remote classes when she was unable to make it to class. SDS was also not willing to help Snider reach out to professors to figure out accommodations, Snider said.
Becca Matson is president of Bulldogs for Universal Design, BUD. She has both physical disabilities and chronic illness, and said she has had different experiences with the SDS office than many of her fellow BUD members.
“The way [SDS] has handled my physical disability versus how they’ve handled my chronic illness is a little bit different,” Mattson said. “With my physical disability, there hasn’t been a single issue … But a lot of what I do as president of BUD is have conversations with students who have issues with SDS.”
Matson said the main problem she sees with SDS now is the amount of documentation required to get accommodations. When she needed to change her accommodations earlier this year due to chronic illness, she said SDS requested a lot more information about her diagnoses and hospital visits than is legally required. She said requiring more information than is necessary can be a barrier in students getting the help they need.
Kathleen Camire is the director of student disability services, and Hannah Russell is assistant director. They said their work in SDS is “student led,” and a large part of their goal is self-advocacy and independence for students. Camire said SDS is willing to help students navigate self-advocacy, and that their conversations are always student-focused.
“We always say, [when we] finish getting them registered, ‘if you need anything, if you need help, if you’re not sure what to do in a certain situation, reach out,” Camire said. “So we will meet with students and help them craft emails if they’re feeling anxious or unsure about how to write something, and talk through how to advocate for what you need. Because ultimately what we want is for students to feel independent, and to feel the ability to advocate [for themselves.]”
SDS gave Snider a list of other options to reduce fatigue in class, including wearing sunglasses in class, and getting up to leave for a few minutes and coming back.
“I explained to her the situation, and it should’ve been clear that [leaving class] wasn’t going to help me,” Snider said. “First of all, if I stand up in the middle of class, everyone is like ‘what the hell is the autistic chick doing?’ And if I walk out, I’m disturbing the class, and [I] miss whatever’s going on in the classroom, and then come back in and disturb everyone again. That’s negatively affecting me more than Zooming in would, and it’s negatively affecting the people around me, because I’m distracting them.”
Another suggestion SDS offered to Snider was switching to online classes completely — meaning she would have to unenroll from Butler — or take classes at another university and transfer the credits to Butler.
Students who feel frustrated or unhappy with their accommodations should communicate their needs to SDS, Camire said.
“We always want to know if there’s something not going well,” Camire said. “We want to help, and it might just be rethinking how a student is managing their course load, it might be that there are additional accommodations that might be reasonable and necessary. We’re always happy to look at new documentation; we’re always happy to talk further if something that wasn’t a problem previously is becoming a barrier and look at what accommodations might help to lift that barrier.”
Both Blade and Snider said having someone with a disability in the SDS office, or making sure SDS’s work is informed by disabled voices, would make the office more welcoming. Blade also suggested hiring an Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, compliance officer, something BUD has requested, to make sure the ADA is being followed.
Camire said her background was in higher education, and Russell is a licensed social worker. They said several people working in the SDS office have invisible disabilities, which informs their work with SDS.
“That does really help us in terms of identifying with students who feel really frustrated by what can happen, and we understand that,” Camire said. “It can help with developing the skills around, like, you know it’s gonna happen, how can you plan for it as best as you can, and try to manage it when it does happen.”
Blade said her biggest disability advocates at Butler are BUD and Advocates for Autism, A for A — not the SDS office. She said she is disappointed that the SDS office doesn’t take charge of some of the advocacy that is currently falling on student groups.
“Especially with the resources that Butler has, that just feels extremely unacceptable,” Blade said. “It’s very strange. Whenever something happens it’s BUD and A for A pulling teeth … it doesn’t feel that hard to me to just stick up for disabled students.”