Office of Accessibility Services expects summary of information, blueprint for next steps by end of semester
COVID-19 and Accessibility
Accessibility at Rollins is on track to improve following COVID-19 setbacks. After concerns were raised about campus accessibility, as previously covered in The Sandspur, Rollins ordered an accessibility audit, which will eventually be available for public viewing.
The report, delivered to the college by the New York based architecture firm EYP in Nov. 2019, contained over 700 pages of information about the state of accessibility on campus and identified areas of focus for the college moving forward.
The analysis of this audit was delayed by the rapid changes brought about by the current COVID-19 pandemic but is now moving forward. The college has hired an intern for the spring semester to assist in the analysis of the report.
“By the end of the semester, we anticipate having summary information and a strategic blueprint completed on how to move forward,” Whitney Horton, director of the Office of Accessibility Services, said. “I am very much looking forward to developing a long term strategic plan using the information from the audit.”
The Office of Accessibility Services plans to make the audit available to the student body and the wider Rollins Community after the findings and analysis of the report have been presented to upper administration. This is not expected to happen before the end of the spring semester.
As well as delaying the analysis of the accessibility audit, COVID-19 has also impacted the everyday operations of the Office of Accessibility Services.
“Due to COVID-19 and the changes to class modality, we had to re-think how several of our accommodations were provided and administered,” said Horton.
Horton explained that, while the switch to virtual learning has been beneficial for many, it has caused new challenges to arise for some. Attending school virtually has allowed students with chronic health issues to avoid absences and be more engaged in their academics. However, locating a place without distractions for attending class and taking exams has also presented some students with a new struggle and barrier to accessibility.
The Accessibility Office, located in the first floor of Olin Library, has in-person staff available for those who need assistance on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students with testing accommodations who take in-person classes have been and will continue to be permitted to test in-person at the Office of Accessibility Services. The office is also available in their department WebEx room during the same office hours.
Student Government Association Efforts
During Fall 2020, the Student Government Association (SGA) passed the Disability, Inclusion, and Accessibility Act. This bill, written by Elizabeth Smith (‘22) and Zoe Pearson (‘22), conveys the standards of accessibility that SGA commits themselves to and outlines efforts that the association plans to undertake.
The bill states that the Student Government Association commits itself to “including image descriptions on all campus communications including an image” and to working “with the Office of Accessibility Services to provide captions on all video communication.”
SGA hopes to work with the office to make online, hybrid programs available even after campus returns to full capacity and there are no longer concerns about in-person classes spreading COVID-19.
SGA believes that “this should now be considered a reasonable accommodation provided by the college under the Americans with Disabilities Act for students with disabilities.” Horton supports this belief.
“Because students were able to choose the modality that best suited their circumstances, we have seen great benefits for students with accommodations,” said Horton.
The bill also states that SGA will create a task force headed by Elizabeth Smith (‘22), the accessibility senator of SGA, that will be responsible for reviewing the reports submitted through the online Barrier Reporting form. It will also be responsible for organizing a meeting with the Diversity and Inclusion Chair of SGA to discuss accessibility concerns with President Grant Cornwell and the Office of Accessibility Services each semester.
Previously Reported Accessibility Efforts
The Sandspur reported in early 2019 on proposed efforts to increase accessibility on campus, including an online reporting form for accessibility issues, a service animal training program, and workshops on note-taking and organizational strategies.
Since then, Rollins has started a service animal training program, known as the Rollins Collar Scholars, and this semester there will be a service dog in-training accompanying a student to classes on campus.
Organizational Strategies workshops are available for any student with accommodations and can be scheduled via the student accommodations portal, Accommodate.
Previous Sandspur articles regarding the state of accessibility on campus also reported that the Office of Accessibility Services was working with campus security to have ADA-compliant parking labeled on campus maps.
Accessible parking has been labeled on the online, interactive campus map. However, it continues to be unlabeled on the Fall 2020 Campus Map and on the Campus Parking Map available on the Rollins College website. Buildings like Mayflower Hall that lack accessibility features such as elevators and push buttons have not been labeled on any campus maps available, indicating that barriers to accessibility on campus continue to exist.
Horton made it clear that she and the Office of Accessibility Services understand that barriers continue to be present on campus, and she encourages students to provide feedback: “The work of inclusivity and accessibility is never finished…We encourage feedback on areas of improvement.”
The Barrier Reporting tool, developed following accessibility concerns raised in early 2019, continues to be available for students and faculty via the Rollins Office of Accessibility Services website.