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Disabilities Coordinator Takes Office

By Stacey E. Blau
News Editor

Barbara Roberts assumed the Institute's new position of disabilities services coordinator last June after a six-month search process.

The coordinator will take on responsibilities that were previously shared by several MIT administrators. Vice President for Human Resources Joan F. Rice announced the appointment last March.

Roberts was previously the disabilities coordinator at the University of Rhode Island.

Rice said that she chose Roberts for having successfully brought to fruition a program for disabled persons in a university setting. "She is incredibly committed" to her work, Rice said.

MIT chose a disabilities services coordinator to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandated the designation of a "Section 504" coordinator, a central administrator whose duties include aiding disabled students and personnel and educating the community about disabilities.

Roberts was selected from a pool of 180 applicants by Rice and a committee composed of people from areas of MITthat are affected by the implementation of the ADA on campus.

Coordinator is also an educator

Rice said that one of the coordinator's main responsibilities is "to provide students and employees with the tools to be independent" by helping people to find what they need, whether it be tutors or readers or resources in the Boston area.

Rice said that so far 90 percent of Roberts' time has been spent dealing directly with students. But Rice said she hopes that once students are settled in, Roberts can focus her attention on her role as an educator, helping the MIT community to be sensitive to the needs of disabled persons.

Roberts will communicate with the planning office and Physical Plant about handicap accessibility around campus. She will also keep the Institute informed about government legislation related to the ADA.

MIT slow in naming coordinator

In the spring of 1994, a letter from then-Undergraduate Association Vice President Anne S. Tsao '94 drew attention to the Institute's lack of compliance with the ADA.

"MIT is supposed to provide services and an environment for disabled students that are conducive to one's educational pursuits," Tsao wrote in a letter to Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56. Tsao specifically spoke of the need for the federally-mandated coordinator.

At the time, confusion existed over who was serving as the the Institute's disabilities services coordinator.

The lack of coordination did not adversely affect students and personnel. In the past, as now, it has been hard for students and faculty to know where to locate Institute resources, Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman said.

Students and personnel "were well served," he said. The administrators who juggled different responsibilities "had an informal network" that contributed to their effectiveness.

But Immerman said that it became clear that the job "needed to be done in a more organized way," and a coordinator had to be appointed.

Rice assumed the responsibilities of disabilities services coordinator when she became vice president for human resources following the spring 1994 death of Vice President Constantine B. Simonides '57. However, it became clear that a full-time person would be needed, "who knows what needs to get done" to fill the post, she said.

Other efforts made to comply

"There are huge initiatives all over the place" with regard to compliance with the ADA, Immerman said.

In addition to Roberts, MIT has also engaged the services of a learning disabilities specialist.

MIT is also working towards the removal of barriers around campus in order to make facilities accessible. Immerman estimates that the Institute has spent between $700,000 and $800,000 on barrier removal.

All new buildings constructed on campus must comply with new accessibility codes, Immerman said. Budgets for renovations made on buildings must include an additional 20 percent of the budget allocated for space changes that facilitate path of travel, like installations of ramps.