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UA to Take on Three Projects Involving Disability Services And Awareness

The Tech received a copy of the following letter, addressed to Senior Vice President William R. Dickson (the citations have been omitted):

It has come to the attention of the Undergraduate Association that the disability services available at MIT may not be in compliance with federal standards. We are interested in pursuing three main projects that would improve disabled services and awareness on campus in accordance with Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, under whose jurisdiction MIT falls.

The first project intends to raise community awareness of the ADA and ensure that students with disabilities would have the rights ensured by the ADA. For instance, the ADA Title II states that an "individual with a disability" is defined as a person who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a "major life activity" or has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment. Some mental and physical impairments include multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, emotional illness, HIV disease, drug addiction, and alcoholism. The MIT community should be aware of this definition.

Also, Title III states that a private entity must provide academic examinations in accessible places and manner. There are five main points that define "accessible place and manner:" 1) the examination must measure what it is intended to measure, rather than reflecting the individual's impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, 2) the exam format must be modified when necessary (e.g., permit additional time), 3) auxiliary aids must be provided unless they cause undue burden or fundamentally alter the measurement of skills or knowledge the exam is intended to test, 4) a modified exam must be offered at an equally convenient location, as often, and in as timely a manner as are other examinations, 5) the administration of the exam must take place in a facility that is accessible or alternative comparable arrangements must be provided (e.g., providing the examination at an individual's home with a proctor).

Title III further states that a private entity, in order to provide a course in an accessible place and manner, must modify the course format or requirements (e.g., provide additional time for completion of the course), provide auxiliary aids unless fundamental alteration or undue burden will result, and administer the course in a facility that is accessible or provide alternative comparable arrangements, such as provision of the course through videotape, audiocassettes or prepared notes. Faculty members must become aware of these regulations and follow the specified guidelines. It is our hope to raise community awareness so that those individuals with disabilities will find MIT a more comfortable place to learn and work.

The second project involves the eastern side of campus, in particular Walker Memorial and East Campus dormitory. Title II states that no qualified individual shall be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in the services, programs or activities of a public entity, as a result of inaccessibility to the public entity. For existing facilities, this principle is termed "programmatic accessibility."

Although the public entity is not required to make every part of the existing facility physically accessible, it is required to make the programs and services that are available to the community, readily available to people with disabilities. Since the Black Student Union's (BSU) office and meetings are currently being held in Walker Memorial, an African American student is currently unable to participate in the BSU because Walker Memorial is wheelchair inaccessible.

I have spoken to Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh and Associate Planning Officer Michael Kobina Owu about the time line and future agenda for Walker Memorial. It is my understanding that MIT is currently debating the future of Walker and what purpose it is going to serve to the community. The Undergraduate Association is interested in what will happen to Walker and also in ensuring that the final outcome, if it provides student services will be program accessible.

The third project involves the federally mandated Section 504 coordinator position. Currently, Owu is the designated Section 504 coordinator. It is my understanding from my discussion with Owu that he "inherited" the title from his previous supervisor. I am concerned that although MIT has fulfilled the federal mandate of possessing a Section 504 coordinator on campus, MIT has not pursued the spirit and the intent of having this position. For example, the Section 504 coordinator has a rather low profile (close to nonexistent) on campus. It took me two weeks to find him and it was not through his title as Section 504 coordinator. Owu is not listed in the directory as the coordinator and is not listed by the Medical Department as a resource person for disabled students Nor is he listed on any of the brochures or applications to the MIT undergraduate and graduate schools.

The Section 504 coordinator was intended by the federal government to be a central person that could aid disabled students and personnel via counseling, referrals, and advocacy. It is our goal to establish a qualified Section 504 coordinator with experience in dealing with individuals with disabilities. Our goal also includes establishing some formalized process or referral system of which the community at large will be aware. Currently, Assistant Equal Opportunity Officer Clarence G. Williams is listed as the referral person for individuals with disabilities on the MIT undergraduate and graduate applications.

Also, most individuals with disabilities are referred to Assistant Dean of Student Assistant Services Arnold R. Henderson, Jr. of the Counseling Office or the psychiatric ward at the Medical Department. Individuals with disabilities are currently unable to refer to a centralized system or formal process. We would like to see a Section 504 coordinator that is available to both students and personnel, that has counseling and advocacy experience and becomes visible on campus as the central referral person for students with disabilities.

I would like to personally meet with you and discuss the issues that I have outlined above. My first goal is to put together a working committee composed of representatives from your office, the medical department, the counseling Dean's Office, and the undergraduate and graduate student populations. Although I have spent many hours researching this topic, it is possible that I may not be aware of existing situations or solutions to some of the issues that I have brought up. In which case, I am eager to consult and work with more representatives from different sectors of MIT to improve awareness of MIT's services for students with disabilities.

Anne S. Tsao

Undergraduate Association Vice President