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Student disability services gains new directors

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Following the resignation of former director of Student Disability Service Leslie Hempling in late October, assistant directors Erin Leuthold and Jenna Rose are supervising the office.

“[Leuthold and Rose] were selected for their roles after a competitive national search process that involved the opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to provide feedback on candidates during the process,” said Tomoko Sakomura, associate dean for academic affairs, in an e-mail.

As Sakomura shared in an Aug. 16 email announcing the change to the campus community, Leuthold’s and Rose’s position is a fixed 10-month term for the 2017 – 2018 academic year. Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Dean Liz Derickson anticipates searching for a permanent director of disability services in the spring.

Leuthold and Rose, having worked with students with varying accommodations and disabilities for many years, bring years of experience to the role. Leuthold was a K-12 teacher in public schools in Rochester, N.Y., taught students with intellectual disabilities at Camden County College, and served as the coordinator of disability services at Holy Family University since 2014. Rose worked with college-age students with disabilities at Bowling Green State University and The College of New Jersey and served for four years as an assistant director of Marvin’s Camp, a camp for children with disabilities at the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island.

Leuthold reiterated the goals of Student Disability Services in an e-mail.

“The primary goal of the Student Disability Services office is to provide equal access to students with disabilities through providing reasonable accommodations,” said Leuthold.

These accommodations include academic, housing, and dining accommodations.

In the process, the office is guided by laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA is described on a government website as “one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation,” and “an ‘equal opportunity’ act for Americans with disabilities.” It defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” The law places the burden on college-age students to ask for accommodations and on institutions to ensure accessibility, according to Leuthold and Rose.

The office attempts to raise campus awareness about varying abilities through programming and events, such as the screening of “DEEJ,” a documentary about a nonspeaking young man advocating for autistic civil rights, on Oct. 26. According to Leuthold and Rose, the event was a success. There were over 100 community members in attendance.

“In the process of destigmatizing disability as identity, … our office, and the work that our office does, we want to make the barriers for students who are looking for accommodations to be as thin and as transparent as possible,” said Rose. “And I think a huge step to that is being present on campus, and showing that we’re here and we’re here to support you.”

The new appointments come as the number of accommodations requests has grown tremendously both at the college and nationwide, partly due to the broader definition of disability in the ADA’s 2008 amendment. According to Leuthold and Rose, about 30 more people requested academic accommodations at the college this year than last year, bringing this year’s total to about 120 requests.

Given the increased workload, Leuthold and Rose feel that having two people in the office is very beneficial.

“It’s nice to have somebody else to consult with, and with the amount of work that I feel we both have, it really makes sense to have two people,” said Leuthold.

Rose agreed, adding that it increases the office’s ability to work on campus outreach.

“The ability of dividing the caseload between two people gives us more opportunity to do that campus outreach and that disability as identity work on campus, that I don’t think one person would be able to do,” said Rose. “If 50% of both of our days is meeting with students, I could easily see how one person could meet with their students 100% of the day, because the demand is so high. I’m really thankful that the institution made this call to expand this office.”

Natasha Nogueira ’18 thinks that Hempling did a good job as director but thinks that Student Disability Services has a mixed reputation.

“I think there are mixed feelings surrounding Disability Services at Swarthmore. I think a large percentage of students utilize the office and have accommodations. I’ve also heard a lot of complaints about the office,” Nogueira said. “However, I have always had an extremely easy time getting accommodations and resources, [and] I have no complaints. But it is always difficult being in an environment like Swarthmore, where students and professors expect hard work and diligence, and dealing with a disability that can hinder one’s progress or effectiveness makes that that much harder.”

Nogueira also feels that the change is a bit sudden but agrees with Leuthold and Rose that having two staff members could aid in the office’s work.

“I do think that having more than one person in charge of Disability Services is essential, because it is a large job and very important,” she said. “I’m hoping they will work on improving awareness and understanding between students with disabilities and professors, especially, as one of the largest complaints I hear within the community is that students with disabilities always have had at least one bad experience with a professor who was not very kind or understanding about their disability.”

Sakomura expressed optimism about Leuthold and Rose’s work in the community and said the academic affairs team was providing support for them.

“Erin and Jenna bring great experience to their roles,” she said, “and they make a great team.”

As they said in an email reintroducing themselves to the campus community, Leuthold and Rose invite any student to contact either or both of them using their e-mails or phone numbers, which are available on the Student Disability Services website.

Students work to create chronic illness support group

in Around Campus/News by

Many students on campus struggle with chronic health conditions that can sometimes impede their ability to participate fully on campus, leading some students to take action to improve their situation. Max Weinstein ’19 is working on creating a support group for students with chronic health problems.

On Sept. 19th, Weinstein wrote an op-ed in the Daily Gazette titled “Chronic pain at Swat is real, let’s talk about it.” In the piece, he told his story of attempting to deal with chronic pain on campus, saying “Take a time you have felt ill, perhaps you had the flu or a broken hand. Imagine that it dragged on and on, for weeks and months. Then add in the lifestyle of Swarthmore.” He goes on to tell the story of how he was unable to attend many of his PE classes, and the teacher said he was skipping for reasons not related to his illness. Another professor would not let him switch course sections to attend his doctor appointment, saying that academics come before extra-curricular activities.

These experiences convinced Weinstein to try to change the campus climate when it comes to chronic illness. He, along with Leslie Hempling, the Director of Student Disability Services, held an interest meeting about a possible chronic illness support group on Tuesday, Sept. 27th. Approximately ten people showed up and an additional five told him they were interested.

He thinks the support group will give students an opportunity to see that they are not alone in their struggle, provide support to each other, and exchange ideas and strategies for dealing with mental health on campus. The group is still in development, but Weinstein has some ideas for what he would like it to look like. One idea is a weekly CAPS-mediated therapy group, though discussions for implementing this group are still preliminary.“It seems like there was consensus that people were interested in moving this forward and making something sustainable out of this, and I think the reason why people at first wanted to try making it CAPS mediated was just because we’re not familiar with each other enough to make it a student run thing. I think people are still trying to exactly figure out what exactly it is that they’re looking for,” said Weinstein.

Weinstein hopes that the group can help offer students social support and resources to help them navigate their illness in respect to the campus. One student who is interested in the support group is Jinje Dong ’18. He struggles with an undiagnosed chronic health condition and hopes that the support group can provide him with ways of navigating the college’s resources and prevent needless struggles.

In addition to having CAPS support sessions, he would like to see more support in the administration. Currently, chronic illness support is run through Hempling in the Student Disability Service office.  Hempling will work with different departments on campus, including Worth, CAPS, dining services, Deans and others, to help support the student.

“When students work with the Student Disability Service to explore possible ADA accommodations, we try and identify reasonable accommodations that will enable the student to access all of the programs and services of the College while also upholding fundamental academic and program requirements,” said Hempling.

Dong suggested that administration could do more to help with non-life-threatening emergencies. Although his health concerns are not deadly, if symptoms arise in the middle of the night, he would like to have health-care options.

In the long-run Weinstein would like to have a specialized position on campus for students who struggle with chronic illness.  He hasn’t had in-depth conversations about the idea with the administration and or decided what their role would be, but he sees the need for a support system or mentorship role for students with chronic illness.

“Leslie has the accommodation, she’s got the bureaucracy side well taken care of, but I don’t think there’s anyone who fills the role of, I think part of it is someone who can give students practical tips like action oriented advice, helping students communicate with professors who might not have a good ability to relate to being in pain or even other students,” said Weinstein.

In addition to to the support group, Weinstein would like to see more understanding around chronic illness on campus in general. He hopes to bring in speakers to talk about the issue and spread awareness. In his op-ed, he said that “Issues of class, race, and gender are rightfully some of the staples of a Swarthmore dinner conversation. But pain is like a tree that falls and no one hears,” he said. To fix this problem, he hopes the college will provide him with some money to bring speakers in who can describe illness and disability on campus.

Dong agrees that awareness and empathy are often lacking on campus, saying that his situation is often hard to explain to professors, but a better understanding of the issue on campus could help him feel more confident in asking for the help he needs.

Hempling says she is happy that students are working to better their environment and improve the resources available to them.

“I love the idea of a support group as one of many potential resources for students who are coping with chronic illness.  It can be tremendously challenging, isolating, and draining to cope with a chronic illness.  One positive aspect of a group format is that it can provide a safe space where students can get to know one another, gain support, and share ideas and resources,” said Hempling.

Students who are interested in learning more about a support group or getting involved should contact Weinstein.

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