The Office of Student Affairs will provide the majority of funding for disability accommodations at student-sponsored campus events by the 2017-2018 academic year in accordance with an agreement reached with the Georgetown University Student Association on Tuesday.
The funding will cover American Sign Language interpreters and other disability-related accommodations including Communication Access Realtime Translation, services that previously had no central funding source for student groups.
As part of the agreement, GUSA will allocate $15,000 from the Student Activities Fee Reserve Account to create the GUSA Access Fund, which will be operated by the GUSA Fund, for the 2015-2016 academic year.
If 25 percent — or $3,750 — of the fund is utilized during the 2015-2016 academic year, 80 percent of the cost of disability accommodations will be contributed, while GUSA will fund only the remaining 20 percent. If this criteria is not met, the sharing agreement will not take place until the 2017-2018 academic year.
“It was really an ad hoc system that didn’t work for student groups right now,” GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) said. “This just takes us one step closer to making the fiscal process easier for students.”
Tezel added that he expects to see an uptick in disability accommodation at student events now that there will be a centralized system to fund the service.
The GUSA Finance and Appropriations committee met Wednesday and passed proposed changes to the GUSA Senate bylaws that will create the GUSA Access Fund if passed by the full Senate. The amendment to the bylaws outlines the agreement that GUSA reached with university administrators.
“Our goal in putting it in the bylaws is continuity,” Fin/App Chairman Robert Shepherd (MSB ’15) said. “It’s a solution that spans several years so we wanted to make sure that people down the road still had access to this.”
GUSA Undersecretary of Disability Affairs Lydia Brown (COL ’15), one of the primary advocates of the new policy, praised Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Director of Student Engagement Erika Cohen Derr.
“This is a major step in the right direction, and a concrete result of years of advocacy by numerous students for improved disability policies on campus,” Brown wrote in an email.
However, she also expressed disappointment that disability accommodations have not been provided through a centralized system until now.
“Georgetown has always lagged behind on disability issues, and this is no different,” Brown wrote. “Disabled people are not considered a priority. We are told that we are too expensive, too needy, and too burdensome, and that anything we ask for and receive we should be grateful that someone went out of their way to provide.”
Olson said that Georgetown is currently engaged in a variety of discussions on disability and accessibility issues and that the agreement his office reached with GUSA will have a positive impact on student programing.
“This issue of providing interpretation for events is something that has recently become a higher-profile issue on most campuses, including Georgetown,” Olson wrote in an email. “There is a larger conversation on disability and accessibility issues happening now through the Disability Justice Working Group.”
Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh said that Georgetown has always complied with the American Disabilities Act of 1990 and has always provided disability accommodations for students for classes and related academic activities.
“Georgetown has been and continues to be committed to meeting the diverse needs of students with disabilities,” Pugh wrote in an email. “This new agreement on student organization events is a helpful addition, and makes our current practice more predictable.”
Providing American Sign Language interpreters at a one- to a one-and-a-half-hour event costs approximately $500, according to Georgetown University Lecture Fund Chair Marcus Stromeyer (SFS ’15).
“One of the main differences in the current system is that somebody who really needs these types of accommodations doesn’t have the privilege to just go to an event on a whim,” Stromeyer said.
The Lecture Fund has previously covered the cost of disability accommodations out of its own pocket. Stromeyer praised the new development and said that the policy would provide the Lecture Fund with greater flexibility in terms of its budget and accommodating disabled students.
“Everybody knew this was a big issue and at the end of the day, when someone requested accommodations we always met them. It was just very unpractical and very expensive for us,” Stromeyer said. “I think it’s very cool to see the whole university moving in coordination. … We’re really excited about it.”
Tezel said that the necessity for improved access to disability accommodations and the difficulty student groups face in providing these accommodations came to his attention during a GUSA event last semester when a student requested an American Sign Language interpreter prior to an LSAT prep course and GUSA had trouble securing the funding for such an accommodation.
“That was the point where we kind of realized that this was something that we needed to do,” Tezel said.
Brown and Tezel both highlighted the need to hire an access coordinator at Georgetown. Tezel plans to engage the Office of Student Affairs in serious discussions during the remainder of his term and expressed hopes that the university would recognize the necessity of an administrator to coordinate non-academic disability services.
“It is now more critical than ever to commit to hiring an access/ADA coordinator to manage the funds, handle requests, and provide technical assistance on accessible programming,” Brown wrote.
Heather Artinian (COL ’15), who was born deaf and received cochlear implants when she was nine, said that she sees this agreement as a step in the right direction.
“Before this arrangement, students may have been hesitant to request accommodations and attend events due to lack of funding or statement of accessibility requests in the event promotions,” Artinian wrote in an email. “The new funding arrangement in addition to required flyer statements will reassure incoming and current students who may need accommodations (and hopefully increase participation).”
Artinian said that Georgetown still has many steps to take toward accessibility.
“However, this does not necessarily mean that efforts should stop there,” Artinian wrote. “There is always room for improvement and we, as a community, should work toward increasing accessibility on campus as a whole. One example would be hiring a disability coordinator.”