A task force of faculty, students, and staff has created a report of recommendations aimed at building a more inclusive and supportive campus community for students with disabilities. Changes will allow students to better leverage the many resources available on campus and instructors will receive more coordinated support for the delivery of accommodations.

Some implementation steps will begin next year, including more prominently highlighting disability in the university’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) initiative and the creation of a centralized office tasked with providing seamless and integrated services.

“The task force report is not meant to serve as a one-size-fits-all solution to supporting and advancing the well-being of students with disabilities at Stanford,” said task force co-chair Paul Fisher, professor of pediatrics and of neurology and neurological sciences. “Rather, we hope it serves as a high-level set of recommendations that set the course for changes that will ultimately improve the lives of students on our campus. Some of these will be things we can accomplish quickly, and others will take more time.”

Charged by Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs, and Patrick Dunkley, vice provost for institutional equity, access, and community, the task force was co-chaired by Fisher and Susan Weersing, associate dean for graduate and undergraduate studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

“I want to recognize the incredible and vital work this committee has done over the past year,” Brubaker-Cole said. “It is because of their hard work and commitment that we now have a road map for creating a more inclusive and accessible environment for every student, regardless of disability.”

While the task force’s work was primarily focused on the student experience at Stanford, Dunkley said he hopes the recommendations will serve as a reference point for future staff accessibility efforts.

“It goes without saying that staff are a key component of our community here at Stanford, and caring for the needs of staff is vital to creating a community that is truly inclusive, accessible, and equitable,” said Dunkley. “We were intentional in including staff on the task force as a means of building a bridge between these efforts and the support of our staff. Our plan is that some of the changes suggested in this report will be applied to staff as well.”

What students had to say

Working closely with Institutional Research & Decision Support, the task force compiled demographic and survey data on the disability community and met with a broad set of students, staff, and faculty stakeholders. Members interviewed students with disabilities and referenced experiences among themselves and research previously conducted by the disability student community.

Among the key demographic findings was a substantial increase in students registering with the Office of Accessible Education, and the most significant growth in accommodation type has been among students with registered psychological disabilities such as anxiety and depression or sleep disorders. Still, some students shared with the task force that they choose not to register with OAE for several reasons, including fear of stigmatization, a lack of understanding of what is required to receive accommodations, or a lack of resources to obtain the required medical documentation.

Throughout the task force’s work, six key themes emerged:

  • A need to centralize support for students and instructors into one office
  • A recognition that Stanford has staff and faculty with significant expertise in providing accommodations and support
  • A recognition that efforts are at times dependent on the dedication of community members acting within a system in need of improvement
  • A recognition that instructors and academic departments need more and different types of support in delivering student accommodations
  • A recognition that students are taking on an added burden of changing campus culture
  • A lack of clarity around leveraging resources and the continued need for students to self-advocate

“Every student deserves to learn and live within a campus community in a meaningful, enriching, and equitable way,” Dean of Students Mona Hicks said. “And while Stanford does have many programs and systems in place to support students with disabilities, it can be difficult to know where to start. Having a more centralized approach could help alleviate some of the stress students feel navigating those resources.”

Next steps

Following the six themes, the task force recommended changes, which fell into three broad categories: systemic changes, academics and academic support, and community life.

In the coming year, Brubaker-Cole and Dunkley’s teams will begin implementing the task force’s key recommendations, beginning with highlighting disability as a core piece of the university’s IDEAL initiative.

“We must fully integrate disability into IDEAL and recognize the need for change on our campus,” Dunkley said. “We must ensure that all members of our campus community feel like they belong and are supported at Stanford, regardless of their intersecting identities. Diversity and inclusion are critical to our research and educational missions, and we must ensure all in our community have access to the many opportunities and benefits available here.”

In addition, work will begin immediately to create one central office, comprising the many offices already supporting students with disabilities, that would be accountable for the coordination and delivery of services. Staff who support students already and many members of the task force will be crucial in helping chart the next steps, Brubaker-Cole said. There will also be a national search for a leader of the office. The central office will help ensure a singular point of contact for students with disabilities and create a central entity responsible for responding to needs and opportunities in the student community.

“This office will also be responsible for ensuring the continued implementation of the task force’s recommendations because we recognize our work must continue to evolve as the needs of our students change,” said Brubaker-Cole. “We want to continue increasing access to physical spaces and developing the necessary support students need beyond the classroom. This will include continuing to develop community space and programs such as the DisCo, which has been an integral place for community building and support for our disability community on campus.”

Learn more

For Stanford students interested in learning more, the full report and space for feedback are available on the VPSA website, and updates on the implementation of these recommendations will be provided regularly.