By Eric D. Lehman
Every July, University of Bridgeport joins organizations across America to recognize Disability Pride Month. This month celebrates all disabilities, including physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, and neurodiversity – honoring the diverse experiences and accomplishments of disabled individuals. It also provides an important opportunity to reflect on the challenges disabled people face, and how best to change to create a more equitable world for all.
Removing Barriers at UB
Maureen Fox, the Manager of Student Accessibility Services at UB, notes that institutions like University of Bridgeport are responsible for establishing inclusive learning environments. “If a student decides to go to college, it is the school’s duty to remove any barriers to access to their education, and any programs or activities offered by the school,” Fox says. “Our job is to treat everyone equitably; to give them what they need to get access to college and college life and all that it offers.”
In addition to managing Student Accessibility Services, Fox teaches School and Constitutional Law for teachers who are training for their administrator’s certification in UB’s EdD program. When she was in law school at the University of Connecticut, she had an opportunity to take a year-long class that offered a legal internship in disability law. One client was intellectually disabled, and her children were being taken away from her. “It started a fire in me,” says Fox. “This mother loved those children so much; most kids would be lucky to be loved that much. Taking them away because she was labeled in this way was wrong.”
Supporting Student Accessibility
Fox arrived on the job at UB in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, among other disastrous effects, damaged disability resources, accommodations, and accessibilities across the United States. For many primary and secondary schools, it was difficult to deliver special education services or accommodations.
“I had to rebuild and reeducate,” says Fox. “I started by sending letters to department chairs and going to faculty meetings. I gave refresher courses about what accommodation resources are and why we use them. I went to orientations with students, Student Support Services workshops, and First Year Seminar classes. I networked to let people all over the campus know who I am and what my office does.” Fox and her team also put together an interactive video that gets sent to all incoming first-year and transfer students, which includes an overview of the law, the process, and an FAQ. In addition, the team created a section for Accessibility Services on the portal and once a month post a Q&A for faculty both online and in-person.
These efforts are vital to the health of the individual students and the university. “We have more students with disabilities than ever,” says Fox, who continued, “and many more than ever come to me to get accommodations.” However, some students are reluctant to visit the office for a variety of reasons, many of which are preventable through education and outreach. “Maybe because they are adults, they think they have outgrown it,” she posits. “Maybe they are tired of being labeled and are in a new place and want to make a new start.” Sometimes these students arrive in her office later in the semester or in their career because they find they need help after all, and Fox is always ready to offer support.
“Each accommodation is determined on an individual basis,” Fox says firmly. “We talk it out together.” Some of these accommodations may include academic adjustments, assistive technology, auxiliary aids, or modified housing. All are designed to reduce or eliminate any barriers to courses, programs, or activities at the University.
To learn more about UB’s accessibility services, visit Student Accessibility Services, or reach out at 203-576-4104!
Improving Accommodations in the Bridgeport Community
UB doesn’t just support the students, but the employees as well. “The university strives for an all-inclusive workplace, and one of those initiatives addresses employees with disabilities,” says Cheryl Nyarady, Director of Human Resources. “As an institution, we will provide reasonable accommodations in appropriate circumstances. That means if employees require reasonable accommodations or want to discuss what this means, they should talk to me or my team. It also means that if you see something on campus that might need our attention, say something to our facilities department about addressing it.” Working with Nyarady and others throughout the university, Fox hopes to expand the Student Accessibility Services office and its mission. “One change I would like to see is having a testing center with a testing coordinator, to offer the students more options for testing times,” she says. “I would also love more programming to increase the visibility of accessibility services and of the diversity that our students have, which necessarily includes diversity of ability.”
Making a Difference with Accessibility Services
Nevertheless, her work is making an impact already. One student writes, “I was given extra time today in the exam and that helped me a lot…Thank you for all you do to help students.” The parent of another student adds, “There are not enough words to describe how thankful our family is for the amount of care, time, and effort they gave us, along with the thousands of other students at UB.”
“Students with disabilities just need an opportunity to level the playing field, along with a caring person like Maureen Fox to help them succeed at the university,” says Craig Lennon, Dean of Students. “Accessibility services and Ms. Fox have made all the difference for our students.”
Embracing Disability Pride at University of Bridgeport
Disability Pride Month presents an opportunity to embrace disabilities as integral parts of the human condition and to reflect on the advances that have been made in the last few decades to help people who need accessibility assistance. It is also an opportunity for the voices of all disabled people to be heard. At University of Bridgeport, we are listening.
At UB, #UBelong. Learn more about joining the University of Bridgeport community today!