Provost enlists faculty in improving services for students with disabilities

Sally Dickson, an associate vice provost for student affairs, is chair of the Disability Advisory Committee, which was formed to help the university improve its services and academic accommodations for students with disabilities.

L.A. Cicero Sally Dickson

Sally Dickson

Stanford has formed a Disability Advisory Committee to help the university and its Office of Accessible Education improve the services and academic accommodations – for classes or tests – provided to students with disabilities.

The 19-member committee, which was formed last summer and already has held two meetings, includes faculty, staff and students.

Sally Dickson, an associate vice provost for student affairs, is the chair of the committee, which plans to meet once a quarter. The group will meet in November.

"The area we're focusing on now is making sure our faculty are informed of the services offered by the Office of Accessible Education, and that they know the process our students go through to make requests for accommodations," she said.

Dickson, who is also the adviser to the president on campus life, said the committee has already made one change in that process. A student may now send an "accommodation letter" electronically. In the past, a student was required to hand deliver the letter to the professor teaching the course, an awkward situation for some students and faculty members, she said.

Among the other committee members are Joan Bisagno, director of the Office of Accessible Education; Julie Lythcott-Haims, dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising; Ronald Albucher, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Vaden Health Center; Eamonn Callan, professor of education; Catherine Glaze, associate dean for student affairs at Stanford Law School; Michele Marincovich, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning; undergraduate Julia Feinberg; and  Aman Kumar, a master's student in computer science.

Speaking at last week's Faculty Senate meeting, Provost John Etchemendy said a recent review of the university's programs and policies showed that Stanford was in compliance with disability law, and offered "appropriate and very good services" to students with disabilities. "But [it also showed] there are some areas we needed to address," he said.

"We are committed to making sure that all Stanford students have access to the full benefits and experiences of a Stanford education, including students with disabilities," Etchemendy said at the Oct. 8 meeting.

"We need faculty support to be able to do so. In particular, we need to provide information to faculty about the procedures we use in cases where a student has a disability and requires accommodations of some sort – either for class or for tests."

Last month, the Office of Accessible Education sent a packet of materials about academic accommodations to department chairs. The packet included a sample accommodation letter and a two-page Guide for Faculty: Testing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities. It also offered some key advice for faculty, including:

  • Provide accommodations to students with disabilities who present an accommodation letter from the Student Disability Resource Center (located in the Office of Accessible Education).
  • Protect the confidentiality of students' disability-related information.
  • Identify textbooks and related course materials prior to the beginning of each quarter to facilitate conversion of materials to alternative formats (e-text, Braille, etc.).
  • Prepare examinations with enough lead time for conversion to alternative formats.

Dickson said she and Joan Bisagno, director of the Office of Accessible Education, and Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, will meet with department chairs during autumn quarter to review the process and answer questions.