Student disability services gains new directors

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.

Reuben Gelley-Newman

Reuben Gelley Newman '21 is a prospective Honors English major and is also involved in music on campus.

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