Disability accessibility accommodation issues continue on WC’s campus

By Heather Fabrtize and Logan Monteleone

News Co-Editor and Elm Staff Writer

After facing a semester without a consistent director, the Office of Academic Skills brought in

a new replacement to head the department.

Freshman Olivia Calvert, who has spinal muscular atrophy, attributes her struggles with

receiving accessibility accommodations to the seemingly constant turnover of directors. Since

arriving at Washington College, Olivia has seen four different faces.

She first toured the Washington College campus as a junior in high school, where she met with

the Director of OAS at the time both in-person and via Zoom. According to Calvert, the director

promised that if she committed, she would have access to note takers, recorded lectures,

changing tables, and transportation to classes.

When her first year started in Fall 2023, however, these needs were not met. The note takers in

her classes were not up to par — they copied the class PowerPoints but did not transcribe verbal

information given by her professors that was necessary for her exams, causing the responsibility

to fall on Calvert’s related caretaker.

The changing tables that OAS promised were not the correct size. The office was unable to

order new ones due to their lack of a director, creating the inconvenience for Olivia of needing to

return to her dorm throughout the day to use the restroom, regardless of where she was on

campus. The College installed the correct size over winter break.

Calvert’s dorm is one of the farthest from the center of campus, as Corsica Hall is the newest

residential building and the only one with the accessibility accommodations Calvert requires, and

which the older dorms on the freshman side of campus lack.

The most prominent of Calvert’s concerns was that no transportation was provided for her to

get to class, in particular to labs in the Barbara and George Cromwell Center for Teaching and

Learning and John S. Toll Science Center. These buildings are too far from her dorm to travel

without a van, and transporting Calvert has fallen on her care attendant, who legally is not

supposed to carry the responsibility.

This missing accommodation was detrimental to Calvert, who, due to her disorder, cannot

remain outside in cold temperatures for long periods of time without severe health risks.

Her difficulties with traversing to class and the lack of other requested accessibility features not

only made her consider the possibility of withdrawing, but caused numerous mental breakdowns

throughout the semester.

“I would have never chosen this school if they were not going to follow through with these

things,” Calvert said.

According to the new Director of OAS Danielle Archambault, part of the issue is based on

legality. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows students with disabilities to request

“reasonable” accommodations, which are decided through an individualized process.

Archambault said that higher education institutions are legally allowed to deny a request that

they feel is unreasonable. As personal services like providing care attendants and transportation

do not fall under ADA law, WC does not have to permit these accommodations.

Calvert, though, also struggled with the lack of honest and helpful communication from OAS

and the Office of the Provost and the Dean. OAS’ initial accommodation agreements with

Calvert, which she said included transportation, were not made in writing. According to her, the

office received notes from the previous director’s meetings with her, but they did not include the

promises of transportation made verbally in the meetings.

Calvert believes that the turnover between directors caused these breakdowns in

communication.

“I’ve reached out to all the executives and they’re just like, ‘We need stuff in writing.’ Well, I

don’t have anything in writing,” Calvert said. “This was in-person [and on] Zoom.”

Archambault acknowledges that turnover prior to her arrival will naturally cause concerns for

students. She said that she is “fully committed” to her team and developing an environment that

will lessen this problem.

“Speaking generally from prior leadership experience, team members who feel they are

compensated fairly, treated respectfully, and have a healthy work-life balance in an environment

that provides professional development and room for growth, if desired, are more satisfied,”

Archambault said.

The Office of the Provost also claimed that they would look into “other options,” according to

Calvert, but have not offered any ideas outside of her finding her own driver to be trained on the

campus vehicles. Calvert confirmed that vague offers of help and the lack of clear action, such as

a timeline and scheduled dates to meet, has been frustrating in her efforts to get in contact with

administrators and facilitate change.

Her only support system, she feels, is her peers, senators in the Student Government

Association, and faculty members, including her advisor, Assistant Professor of Biology Dr.

Mala Misra.

SGA President junior Miranda Parrish has been advocating for Calvert and accessibility

improvements throughout the difficulties with OAS.

“We have been a resource for students to come to us and voice their concerns of the lack of

support they have felt from OAS, mostly because of the turnover,” Parrish said. “And because of

the turnover, students don’t know who to turn to.”

Parrish continued, “OAS is one of the most critical resources that we have on campus and it’s

really, really important to have the right people in those roles. I know that when those positions

weren’t filled, a lot of students were feeling that a part of campus was missing.”

Calvert expressed that issues with accommodations do not just affect people with chronic

conditions, but other members of campus—those struggling with mental health, invisible

disabilities, and injured athletes.

“I just hope to see [changes] for once, for myself and for others on campus,” Calvert said. “I’m

not the only example here.”

Parrish echoed this concern for the campus community at large.

“Accessibility is something that affects everyone, even if it might not be in the same way,”

Parrish said. “People are all different and we should all try to support students as much as we

can, especially as an SGA.”

Parrish, as well as Archambault, emphasize that accessibility is not just a goal isolated to

OAS—it’s a combined effort between a wide variety of departments that requires continuous

conversation.

In her role, Archambault wants to prioritize collaboration with other community members who

play active roles in student retention and success.

“As a team, OAS will be in communication and collaboration with other campus offices and

other constituents, such as parents, to ensure the sharing of information as it relates to student

supports, especially the proper process for requesting reasonable accommodations under ADA,”

Archambault said.

Calvert said that she wishes College support would extend further than words of support. She

proposes that funding or grants could be redistributed to address issues of accessibility, and

mentioned the recent gift from the Hodson Trust Fund of $54.7 million which is being heavily

invested in aid and scholarships for new students—when, as Calvert notes, current students like

herself are struggling to have their needs funded.

“This school promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, so you would think they’d want to have

that more,” Calvert said. “It’s part of the reason I came here, honestly.”

Calvert is passionate about her pursuit of Environmental Science, and cites the College’s strong

program as a reason for her decision to attend. She also has friends at the College whom she has

had since middle school, and has made many friends since arriving.

Calvert is a first generation college student, and is proud of what she has overcome in order to

become a WC student.

“I don’t want to leave,” Calvert said. “I’ve built connections. I have stuff I want to do here.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *