Accessibility issues rampant at Beloit
Campus accessibility conversations typically follow similar patterns: we talk about the WAC lacking a ramp, Pearson’s (unfortunately where Disability Services is located) being hard to enter in the winter, or how most dorms lack elevators. These are glaring problems that I’m sure discourage qualified potential Beloiters from matriculating. But in some sense, those conversations need another dimension, what some may call “invisible disabilities,” and how badly Beloit handles them.
Writ large, an invisible disability is an ongoing challenge in a person’s life, with symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences, and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments, as defined by The Invisible Disabilities Association. About 94% of people in America living with chronic illness show no outward signs. Importantly, just because a person has a disability, does not mean they are disabled.
A close friend recently went to the Counseling Center because he was experiencing suicidal thoughts. He had been struggling for months, and he decided that going and seeing a counselor would be a positive step for him. During his visit, he was asked to fill out a form so staff could help better understand the problems he faced. He indicated his suicidal thoughts and their severity. After consulting the form, the person scheduling the appointment penciled him in 3 weeks later, because the Counseling Center was so booked. He says he did not receive any other information or resources he could go to in the interim.
Many Beloiters don’t have the means to go seek outside counseling services. When a student is struggling with whether or not they are going to kill themselves, I’d like it to be obvious to that student that they have the ability to talk to someone consistently, immediately, which was not true in this case. Luckily, my friend has a good support network, and is now getting the assistance he wants and needs.
Beyond mental health, getting a Beloiter’s needs met in classroom settings suffer, too. Currently, the LEADS office serves about 80 students a semester. That means if those students require help in all of their classes, roughly 640 classes a year, need one person, Joy de Leon, alone to work and negotiate a fair outcome that works for both students and faculty. These discussions all need to happen in an incredibly short timespan at the beginning of the semester to make sure students with individual needs don’t get hurt by the non-retroactive part of our current policy.
These constraints frustrate everyone involved. Faculty often actively exclude students with needs using a policy loophole known as a “Nature of the Course” exemption. The laws that guide these discussions, like the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, are lacking, looking for ‘disallowing discrimination,’ instead of actively promoting more equitable solutions.
Some first steps to solutions are staffing increases. Simply having more administrative supports could alleviate a lot of the stress students who use these services face at the beginning of each semester. They could be the ones to change our policies to reflect our values of equity, with student input. The counseling center would also have more openings with more staff.
Last year, tuition was increased by over 4.5%, way higher than most comparable schools. This comes in tandem with the increase in size of the last two first-year classes to the largest in our history. Coupled with the last two years being the most financially successful fundraising initiatives for Beloit, ever, hiring more staff seems to be something Beloit College could feasibly look into. This requires a reorganization of our administrators’ agendas, but seems like something we as a community ought to pursue.