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Director of Accessibility Support candidates seek to increase accessibility

The University hosted three finalists for the new Director of Accessibility Support for Student Accessibility Services, after the retirement of the previous director, Beth Rodgers-Kay. 

The search committee, led by Dean of Academic Services Erika J. Smith, narrowed down the total number of applicants to three final candidates: Catherine Dugan, Christopher “Chip” Kennedy and Andrea Vassar. Vassar has since withdrawn her application for the Director position, according to an email sent to The Brandeis Hoot. 

The three finalists had the opportunity to interact with students and members of the Brandeis community at three separate meet and greets held on Nov. 26, Dec. 4 and Dec 9. Each candidate was given a meet and greet day where members of the Brandeis community were able to ask the candidates questions about accessibility.

Dugan has been the Director of The Department of Disability Access and Advising at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) since 2017, according to her LinkedIn profile. Prior to becoming director, Dugan had worked in the Advising and Testing Center at IUP since 1986.

If she comes to Brandeis, Dugan’s top priorities will be to “determine institutional, divisional and student priorities,” she wrote in an email to The Hoot. She suggested that the university complete a formal ADA audit and survey in partnership with the facilities department. 

Dugan also hopes to work not only on the physical accessibility of the university’s campus, but also the culture. 

“Students should not be confronted by either ableism or be defined by disability,” she wrote to The Hoot. “In the ‘ideal world’ of universal design, changes are not needed because environments are responsive to all learners.” 

She said she hopes that all graduate students on campus are also fully included, not just undergraduates. 

“At the time of [Brandeis’] origin, persons with disabilities were not really perceived as even a ‘group,’ let alone underrepresented,” Dugan wrote. “Ironically, it is the group that cuts across all others and to which, it is said, we will all become members, if not already. It should, therefore, be in ALL our interests to ensure full inclusion. If the university is substantially committed to this, I am excited.”

In 2010, Dugan was published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability for an article she co-wrote with fellow IUP colleagues titled, “Barriers to College Student Use of Disability Services and Accommodations,” according to an IUP article. In the article, Dugan and her colleagues discussed how the majority of post-secondary learning institutions are federally required to provide accommodations to students with disabilities—however, the article says that students rarely utilize the services provided by the institutions. The article goes on to highlight the ways in which institutions can break down barriers to better help students with disabilities. 

Kennedy was The Director of Student Disability Services at Curry College for over six years, serving as the primary disability consultant “responsible for providing innovative services and support to undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education students with a diagnosed disability or impairment,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

He also helped manage the departmental budget, collaborated with departments on campus to remove physical barriers for individuals with various disabilities and trained faculty members “to address course modification alternatives and the integration of universal instructional design principles to reduce the need for exceptional aids and services,” according to his LinkedIn profile. 

Kennedy also served as the Assistant Director of the Center for Disability Services at the College of Charleston and the President of the New England Association on Higher Education And Disability (NE AHEAD), an organization that works to “strengthen the professionalism, knowledge and expertise of personnel working with postsecondary students through the design and growth of a regional communications network,” according to its website. He is currently an Accessibility Consultant at Harvard University.

“I’m excited to meet the new director and welcome a fresh perspective. I hope the director will continue to prioritize the work SAS has been doing to increase its effectiveness and incorporate accessibility into campus culture,” said Anna Cass ’21, a SAS Fellow, in an interview with The Hoot. SAS fellows are trained by the SAS department to help empower students by being a more personable and direct source for students with disabilities, according to an earlier Hoot article

The search for a new director began after Rodgers-Kay announced her retirement in September 2019, according to an earlier Hoot article. The article further states that Rodgers-Kay’s retirement comes after an increased number of students on campus advocating for increased accessibility on the university’s physical campus and also through academic, living and transportation-related accessibility. The current Interim Director is Scott Lapinski, who has worked at SAS since 2018, the new director will take over from Lapinski once a decision has been made.

According to the job description posted on WorkDay, the director is responsible for overseeing all student accessibility accommodations for, “over 500 qualified students with documented learning, perceptual, sensory, physical and psychological disabilities,” attending the university. The director position requires a candidate to be able to collaborate with other campus services, supervise and provide leadership to the SAS unit and oversee the requests for accommodations for students.

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