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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Quinnipiac addresses campus, classroom accessibility barriers

Peyton McKenzie
Quinnipiac University officials over the summer updated the Office of Student Accessibility’s accommodation platform, the Braille signage in the Ledges residence hall and its shuttle services. The university’s new shuttle provider, Valet Park of America, operates an accessible seven-passenger van on the Mount Carmel Campus to transport students between buildings.

Accessibility barriers — ranging in severity from broken Braille signage to inaccessible construction sites — consistently raised questions during Quinnipiac University’s 2022-23 academic year.

But a year later, Quinnipiac kicked off the fall 2023 semester with a new accommodation portal, an increased number of accessible campus shuttle options and updated Braille signage in the Ledges residence hall.

New accommodation portal

In an Aug. 23 university update, Provost Debra Liebowitz announced the implementation of an integrated accommodation management system.

The streamlined accommodation portal, known as Accommodate, enables students to request and renew accommodations, forward approved accommodation letters to faculty and schedule proctored exams with the Office of Student Accessibility.

“There are less hoops for students to jump through to gain access to QU programs and services,” wrote Kate Palumbo, director of OSA, in a Sept. 10 email statement to The Chronicle. “Students are able to notify their professors earlier in the semester as our staff no longer need to manually write every accommodation letter.”

Accommodate then notifies faculty members via email whenever a student in their class receives an accommodation letter from OSA or books an exam appointment in the Learning Commons. From there, faculty members can use the Accommodate platform to upload testing materials and share exam administration information with OSA staff.

And the platform — which now allows faculty members to access a consolidated list of their students’ accommodation letters — requires professors to sign each letter to ensure they individually review their students’ accommodations.

University officials implemented the new Accommodate system to replace the disjointed Microsoft OneDrive-based portal process OSA used in past years to meet federally mandated accessibility requirements.

Noting that Quinnipiac’s accessibility office supports approximately one-fifth of the university’s students, Palumbo said administrators began looking in the summer of 2022 to implement a centralized accommodation system after recognizing that “the previous systems in place were not sustainable.”

“We are very pleased to now utilize a robust system built to meet the demands of accessibility offices in higher education,” Palumbo wrote. “We are now working more efficiently and able to expediently process students’ accommodations and communicate with our colleagues across the institution.”

University officials have collaborated over the last eight months with Symplicity, the parent company that oversees and administers the Accommodate platform, to structure the accommodation system around Quinnipiac’s specific needs.

“It really came down to ease of use and seamless communication for all parties,” Palumbo wrote in a Sept. 10 email statement to The Chronicle. “I have always felt that, as a student with a disability who may face challenges different from their peers, we need to streamline the process in an effort to remove barriers for students.”

Historically, OSA’s accommodation policies and procedures have relied heavily on student advocacy. The university’s previous accommodation system required students with disabilities to forward their approved accommodation letters to each of their professors.

OSA staff has always encouraged students to discuss their accommodations with their professors prior to or just after the start of the semester. But Lisa Burns, professor of media studies, noted that this honor system-dependent process was rarely perfect in practice.

“Some students weren’t always good about forwarding their letters until right before they needed accommodations,” Burns wrote in a Sept. 10 email statement. “This new system resolves that issue.”

Burns, acknowledging how overwhelmed OSA has been in recent years, said she expects the new platform to “greatly help in managing the paperwork.”

However, she also pointed out that “students are no longer responsible for acting as their own advocate” under the new accommodation system.

Although faculty received an email that listed the final step in the accommodations process as a meeting between the student and the professor “to discuss the implementation of their approved accommodations,” Burns said only two of her students have emailed her directly about their accommodations.

“Instead, when I receive a letter, I follow up with the student via email to detail how their accommodations will be addressed in my class and note they can contact me if they have any questions,” Burns wrote. “And there’s no guarantee that faculty members will be as diligent as I am in following up with their students.”

Accessible campus shuttle options

Quinnipiac also partnered with transportation company Valet Park of America over the summer to overhaul its campus shuttle system. Unlike the university’s previous shuttle operator, which offered only two accessible shuttles, six of VPA’s eight intercampus shuttles are accessible to individuals who use mobility aids like wheelchairs.

VPA also operates an accessible seven-passenger van on the Mount Carmel Campus to transport students between buildings amid ongoing South Quad construction.

“I have heard positive feedback regarding the new shuttle system — reliability, increase in ADA compliant shuttles, the list goes on,” Palumbo wrote.

Updated Braille signage

A Chronicle investigation revealed in September 2022 that more than 100 signs identifying rooms, stairwells and exits in the Ledges residence hall lacked accessible Braille text as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In one instance, the sign identifying a fourth-floor closet denoted the room number in permanent marker and featured damaged Braille text that spelled “into have” instead of “storage.” In another, each of the 75 Braille dots on two signs identifying a stairwell not only as a stair exit but also as an area of rescue assistance was broken.

However, university officials subsequently updated the inaccessible signage in the first-year residence hall over the summer.

“We should always be striving to make sure everyone feels welcomed by our campus, whether that’s students, faculty, staff, or visitors,” wrote Jamie Setzler, Student Government Association vice president for inclusion, in a Sept. 10 email statement to The Chronicle. “Ensuring that our Braille signage is up to par with ADA requirements is just one small aspect of that, but it’s an incredibly vital one.”

Amid concerns last fall about campus accessibility, SGA issued an October 2022 resolution calling on the Quinnipiac administration to audit OSA’s compliance with the ADA. Setzler praised university officials for listening when “students noticed a problem and advocated for a change.”

“When we’re vocal about an issue, we’re much more likely to see improvements,” Setzler wrote. “I’m honored to be on a campus with so many students who are willing to help our university become the best it can be.”

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