In education circles, it is well understood that universities and other institutions of higher learning need to provide reasonable accommodations to any students with a physical or mental disability. And while these conversations are frequent, discussions rarely focus on how campuses can better meet the unique challenges and struggles faced by faculty and administrative staff who might be suffering from these very same disabilities.
As with any employer, your campus is legally obligated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide general accommodations for workers who have disabilities and to avoid any discriminatory hiring or employment practices that might target those with a disability.
To help universities comply with these obligations and better serve their colleagues, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) drafted a report back in 2012 to offer practical guidance to faculty members with disabilities.
Among its offered recommendations, the guide encourages that the "process of structuring a reasonable accommodation must be interactive." And these accommodations may take many forms including modified physical spaces, using adaptive equipment in the classroom, or adjusting teaching schedules.
In addition, unless a faculty member's disability is obvious -- such as use of a wheelchair or blindness -- the guide directs that "a college or university must not initiate discussion with a faculty member concerning a possible disability. The faculty member must begin the dialogue."
And any information regarding a faculty member's disability should not be kept in their regular personnel file to avoid those details unduly influencing any employment or promotion decisions.
While the AAUP report was definitely well-intentioned, it may not be sufficiently comprehensive, which led a group of scholars to draft a response essay that encouraged schools to do more than just meet the minimum legal compliance guidelines when it came to supporting staff and faculty who have a disability.
Among the various recommendations discussed in the response essay, several focused on the need for universities to provide special accommodations for materials and resources used beyond the classroom -- particularly those used in academic research and publication, such as access to academic conferences or library resources.
For instance, while your university may have physical accommodations in place to support blind faculty who need to visit the library -- are they able to readily access the facility's complete digital and hard-copy holdings to facilitate their research efforts?
Much like students with disabilities, faculty who have disabilities face similar challenges related to timing. In fact, disability theory has developed the term "crip time" to denote the complex relationship that people who have disabilities often have with normative time frames.
While schools will traditionally offer additional testing time or scheduling flexibility to students with disabilities, these accommodations are not always available to faculty. And when these scholars are held to the same publication or tenure timelines as their peers, they may face insurmountable challenges that can have long-ranging effects on their careers.
Conversely, by introducing flexibility and the ability to request extensions into these programs, your school can meet the needs of these staff members without compromising the quality of academic research.
Beyond simple accommodation and tolerance, your campus should seek to become as inclusive to its faculty and staff who have disabilities as it is (hopefully) to your students with disabilities. By creating an ongoing dialogue with these employees, your school will be better prepared to meet their needs while promoting a healthier, more productive, and more successful campus environment for everyone.
Your campus should routinely reevaluate existing campus policies and employment practices with an eye towards ableism and disability inclusion. Also consider training to help your administrative staff identify and address any unconscious biases that could undermine inclusive efforts.
While the legal support threshold for your faculty and staff is far lower than that of your student population, by seeking to accommodate these unique needs, your school can create a more open and inviting campus for everyone.