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11/17/2015 12:00 AM

The statute of limitations for nonemployment ADA claims is:

A. The state’s personal injury statute of limitations.

B. The state’s disability discrimination statute of limitations.

C. The federal four-year statute of limitations.

D. A, B or C.

The correct answer is D.

The statute of limitations for nonemployment ADA claims is:

A. The state’s personal injury statute of limitations.

B. The state’s disability discrimination statute of limitations.

C. The federal four-year statute of limitations.

D. A, B or C.

The correct answer is D.


Readers of my blog, Understanding the ADA (, know that I have discussed the issue on two different occasions: and Breaking it down works this way:

  1. What is the most appropriate statute of limitations for the claim?
  2. Answer: In most situations, it is going to be the state’s personal injury statute of limitations. However, some states have disability discrimination statutes, and in those situations, the disability discrimination statute of limitations may be the most appropriate. In general, the personal injury statute of limitations will be the go-to in most states. With respect to retaliation claims, the statute of limitations is going to relate to whatever title of the ADA is involved (e.g., Title I, Title II or Title III). Title I requires administrative exhaustion with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or an equivalent state agency within a certain period of time (180 days for the EEOC or 300 days if an equivalent state agency is used for the filing) before bringing suit, but the other two titles do not require any administrative exhaustion.

  3. Why is there even a debate over whether the federal statute of limitations of four years applies to the ADA?
  4. Answer: The ADA was signed in July 1990. In December 1990, the federal four-year statute of limitations went into effect, but that law applies only to federal causes of action arising under federal statutes with no statute of limitations after December 1990 and was not retroactive. That is, since the ADA was signed in July 1990, ADA claims were not subject to the federal four-year statute of limitations. However, the ADA Amendments Act was signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, many years after the federal four-year statute of limitations went into effect.

  5. How do you decide when the four-year federal statute of limitations applies to ADA claims?
  6. Answer: You will have to check the case law in your jurisdiction. Currently, there are two possible approaches because you can have different interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Jones v. R.R. Donnelley And Sons Company, 541 U.S. 369 (2004). The terms used by the court in deciding when the federal four-year catchall statute of limitations applied included: “creation of new rights of action and corresponding liabilities,” whether “the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant was made possible by a post-1990 enactment,” and “whenever a post-1990 enactment creates a new right.” The thing of it is, you get to different places depending upon whether a court seizes on the rights language or whether it seizes upon whether the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant was made possible by a post-1990 enactment.

  7. Why do you get to different places depending upon whether a court seizes upon the rights language or on the made possible language used in Jones?
  8. A. Case Law

    Answer: The answer is Civics 101. In the United States, it is often said that the legislature makes the law, the executive branch enforces or carries out the law, and the judicial branch interprets the law. Many definitional terms in the original ADA were not defined, and so it was left to the U.S. Supreme Court to define those terms. For example, the original ADA did not have a definition of “substantial limitation” or “major life activities.” (The ADA defines a person with a disability as an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of life’s major activities.) Also, the original ADA did not discuss how a person with a disability would be evaluated if he used mitigating measures, such as hearing aids, etc. Accordingly, the Supreme Court stepped in and answered all of these questions, the effect of which was to severely narrow the scope of the ADA because:

    1. Substantial limitation was defined in terms of a person being severely restricted or prevented from performing a manual task (Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002)), which courts then extended across all disabilities.
    2. From Sutton v. United Airlines, 527 U.S. 471 (1999):
      • a. Mitigating measures must be factored into the analysis when deciding whether a person has a disability.
      • b. if a person is alleging that he was regarded as having a disability (the third possible way a person could have a disability under the ADA), he had to show that the employer regarded the individual as having a physical or mental impairment and regarded the individual as being substantially limited in a major life activity (a very difficult standard to meet).

    The combination of Sutton and Toyota meant that it was extremely difficult for a person with a disability to be covered by the ADA. Further, the combination of the two decisions had the perverse effect of discouraging people with disabilities from using mitigating measures to compensate for the disability because any mitigating measures used were counted against them.

    B. ADAAA

    Answer: In 2008, George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act. That law did several things, including but not limited to the following. First, it explicitly overruled Toyota Motor and Sutton with respect to what it means to be substantially limited and with respect to the use of mitigating measures, fully correctable eyeglasses excepted. Second, it specifically says disabilities that are episodic are to be considered disabilities if they would be a disability when active. Third, major life activities were specifically defined. Finally, it says that with respect to regarded-as claims, a plaintiff need only show that he was regarded as having a physical or mental impairment and does not need to show he was regarded as being substantially limited in a major life activity.

  9. Did the ADAAA create new rights?
  10. Answer: With respect to those alleging they were regarded as having a disability, alleging they have a disability even though they use mitigating measures, or alleging they have a disability that is episodic, the explicit references in the ADAAA on these points would most certainly argue for new rights being created. Since rights were being created post-1990, the four-year federal statute of limitations most probably applies to these claims.

  11. Is the ADAAA interpretive?
  12. Answer: Yes. For example, the ADAAA explicitly says that “substantial limitation” as defined in Toyota Motor needs to be much broader than how the U.S. Supreme Court and the EEOC had previously defined it.

  13. So how does it all play out?
  14. A. Rights Jurisdiction (Cordova v. University of Notre Dame Du Lac, 936 F. Supp. 2d 1003 (N.D. Ind. March 29, 2013))

    Answer: In this case, the court adopted a rights-based approach and therefore held that the plaintiff was subject to the state’s personal injury statute of limitations, which had expired prior to bringing the claim. It is also worth noting that the court also held that proceeding with a claim through the university’s internal procedures did not toll the statute of limitations (i.e., stop the statute of limitations from running while the university’s procedures were completed).

    Made Possible Approach (Dickinson v. University of North Carolina, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31721 (M.D. NC March 16, 2015))

    Answer: In this case, the court seized upon “the claims were made possible” language of Jones and attacked the problem in terms of whether the person as the ADA was interpreted prior to the ADAAA would be able to get to first base. In this particular case, they said prior to the ADAAA, this particular person would not have gotten to first base, but would under the ADAAA. Accordingly, this person was able to use the four-year statute of limitations. In this kind of jurisdiction, you wind up with a trial within a trial. That is, in order to prevent use of the four-year statute of limitations, the defense, since the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, would have to show that a person would have had a disability under the ADA prior to the amendment to the ADA. If that showing can be made, then the applicable state statute of limitations will apply. Absent such a showing, the four-year statute of limitations applies. Finally, keep in mind that while the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, which would mean normally it would be up to the defense to make the requisite showing, it can be raised in a motion to dismiss where failure to comply with the statute of limitations is apparent from the face of the pleadings. In that situation, the burden would be on the plaintiff to establish she would not have been a person with a disability prior to the amendment to the ADA but is one after the amendments. So, assuming a “claims were made possible” jurisdiction, the ability to use the four-year statute of limitations is very much in play after a trial within a trial (expensive).

So what should you do?

Answer: A college or university needs to recognize that it is entirely possible the statute of limitations for nonemployment ADA claims is four years. Accordingly, it certainly doesn’t pay to go into a reactive mode. Litigation is extraordinarily expensive. Your best approach is going to be preventive law. Therefore, colleges and universities should engage in an ADA compliance audit, which I discussed at, and put preventive systems in place so as to deter future litigation.

Tools of the Trade
10/19/2015 12:00 AM

ST. PAUL, MINN. — Chances are you’re seeing a lot more students with autism spectrum disorder on your campus than you did in years past. Among the age group of students entering college now, the prevalence of individuals with ASD is about one in 110 people, said Michelle Rigler, director of the Disability Resource Center and the MoSAIC program at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Building a toolbox can help you serve students with ASD from their adjustment to college to their successful job hunt.

ST. PAUL, MINN. — Chances are you’re seeing a lot more students with autism spectrum disorder on your campus than you did in years past. Among the age group of students entering college now, the prevalence of individuals with ASD is about one in 110 people, said Michelle Rigler, director of the Disability Resource Center and the MoSAIC program at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Building a toolbox can help you serve students with ASD from their adjustment to college to their successful job hunt.

Rigler, along with Jennifer Murchison, assistant director and LD-ADHD and autism spectrum disorders coordinator at the University of Memphis; and Amy Rutherford, MoSAIC program specialist at UTC, shared the top 10 ways to support these students in a presentation at the Association on Higher Education and Disability annual conference. Consider adding these tools to your toolbox.

  1. Use characters from popular media to educate the campus community about ASD. It’s important not to belittle or make fun of students by using video clips, but used effectively, they can enable conversations to start, Rigler said.
  2. Faculty are afraid to talk about ASD or to work with students with the disability because they don’t understand it, she said. Engaging them in laughter can break down the barrier. Showing a clip of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or from Scorpion can help them understand their students.

  3. Help students transition to college. Enlist parents to assist. Disability services providers are often taught that parents should not be involved, but for students with ASD, they can be your best resource, Murchison said. They have been advocates for their child since birth, she added.
  4. A transition program for students with ASD can help students adjust to campus when there aren’t so many students around and can give them a chance to speak with experienced college students with disabilities about their experiences so that they can learn what adjustments those students made.

    Parents who attend the session can learn about how to let their students be independent and how to guide them appropriately.

    The top tool Murchison suggested for helping students make the transition is the book Developing College Skills in Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome by Sarita Freedman.

  5. Provide students with planning and time management systems. In high schools, students with ASD didn’t need to do as much planning, Rutherford said. People told them what to do. Often, they didn’t need to take notes.
  6. Once they become college students, it’s important to help them develop schedules and devise organizational systems. In Rutherford’s office, everything is color-coded. She encourages students to adopt a similar system. She tells students that the same thing won’t work for everyone, but they need to try her system, and she’ll help them develop their own system if it doesn’t work for them.

    First, they choose a color for each class. It’s usually the main color of the textbook. Binders and notebooks for that class are the same color.

    For time management they divide the day out on a calendar. Students mark their to-dos on the calendar and color-code the time they will spend on each class with the same color they use on the binder.

    Many calendars end at 6 p.m., but clearly that doesn’t work for college students, Rutherford said. Her favorite tool is the Passion Planner (see Designed for students, it includes spaces for academic and personal to-do lists. Schedule planning centers around the student’s passion. That’s helpful because many students with ASD have a particular passion they want to spend time on. Planning their time helps students see that if they can get through their math class, they will have time to focus on their passion, Rutherford said.

    The Apple iStudy app also works for some students, Rigler said. Students fill out information from their syllabus on the app. It can be color-coded, sync with the calendar in their phone, and send out reminders.

    A week-at-a-glance calendar also works for some students, Rigler said. She has them put sticky notes over less important items so that they can focus on the most important ones. They can take the sticky notes off when they complete their important tasks.

    Putting time scheduling on a clock face rather than listing tasks in a linear format helps some students understand how their time will be spent, Rigler said.

  7. Encourage students to develop systems for daily living. They might need help with medication management, healthy eating habits, wellness routines and sleep monitoring, Rigler said.
  8. Sometimes students decide not to take their medication anymore, and sometimes they forget to take it.

    Students might be taking eight medications and not know what any of them are for, Rutherford said. It’s important for parents to educate them about that, she said. And students should know the impact of stopping medications and should be advised to speak with their doctor before making changes.

    A good tool to help students take medications on time is the PillPack (see Doctors send the prescriptions to the company, and the medications are delivered by mail to students in packets labeled by day and time. PillPacks save students from having to run errands, and students can see that they missed a medication if the pack with a past date and time is unopened.

    Students also need to understand why it’s important to eat healthy food. At UTC, officials from dietetics and the student health center will advise students with food intolerances, Rigler said. For example, they know what fruits don’t have seeds or skin.

    Murchison spoke with a student who ate only Chick-fil-A. She learned that the student was afraid other foods would be undercooked. Understanding the issue helped Murchison advise her about health code standards and alternative choices.

    Exercise options are also important. Many students with ASD find the fitness center to be overwhelming, and they are self-conscious about taking classes, Rigler said. The fitness center at UTC offers yoga and tai chi classes designed for them, some of which are taught with the lights out. Personal trainers are also available to work with them.

    Some students with ASD also have trouble getting enough sleep. Officials at UTC talk about shut-off time when their phone and computer must be off. They also use technology such as Fitbits and the S+ by ResMed to monitor their sleep. When students see that they did poorly on quizzes after getting only three hours of sleep, that makes an important point.

  9. Provide students with appropriate technology. Some students love technology, and others hate it. Tools that work for some students include:
    • FM systems. Designed for people who are hearing impaired, these can help students block out distractions.
    • Echo pens from Livescribe. These record everything students hear and say and tie the recording to notes taken with the pen. The student can tap on the appropriate place in his notes to hear the recording.
    • Apple watch. This device puts information right in front of students and is useful for students with executive functioning problems. For students who don’t remember to check their phones for messages, the watch provides reminders.
    • Fitbit. This device helps students understand how they are using their time and whether they are taking care of themselves.
    • Timers. Students can use these to keep their schedules on track.
  10. Suggest useful apps for students. Free and low-cost apps can help keep students with ASD on track.
    • Trello. This calendar app can break tasks down. A staff member serving as an administrator can set the app to send her an automatic email if items on the calendar are moved.
    • Erudio. This academic management app helps students manage courses with dates, times, location and current grades. Students can plug in how grades are weighted so they know where they stand academically at any time.
    • Cold Turkey. This app blocks social media, websites and games and can be set to do so at certain times.
  11. Provide support with writing. Many students with ASD have trouble writing papers, Murchison said. An index card system can help them with outlining. They can color-code materials (e.g., facts on yellow, anecdotes on blue). And they can move the cards around.
  12. Some students with ASD have trouble turning in drafts because they feel everything has to be perfect, Rigler said.

    The book Helping Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder Express Their Thoughts and Knowledge in Writing by Elise Geither can help faculty members and tutors understand that their students’ problems are not related to being lazy or waiting too long to work on the assignment.

  13. Develop effective communication strategies. Students need to understand the language of a campus, Murchison said. Knowing terms like TA, GA, SGA, going Greek, FAFSA, FERPA, bursar and provost can help them navigate the environment.
  14. And practicing social scripts helps students with ASD navigate the social world. Murchison has weekly meetings with students where she helps them figure out how to interact. They might practice questions they want to ask their professors. And they practice alternatives: “If my professor says …, I will say ….”

    Rigler has shared the book Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel by Lorraine E. Wolf, et al., with officials in faculty development, engineering and other departments so that they better understand the communication challenges students with ASD face.

  15. Assist students as they manage anxiety. Students with ASD often have heightened anxiety as they figure out the new social environment, Rutherford said.
  16. Her team meets with staff members in counseling and the health center each month. They have discovered which counselors really understand the problems students with ASD encounter.

    Officials at UTC help students identify their stress indicators. Sometimes students don’t know what they are feeling. They might not notice bodily reactions to stress such as sweating. Officials provide them with a chart shaped like the human body that lists stress reactions that impact different parts of the body.

    They also teach students to identify their anxiety on a scale of one to five, where five is the volcano point. If a student is a four or five when she comes into the office, Rutherford lets her cool down to a three before they talk.

  17. Provide appropriate curriculum materials. At UTC Rigler and Rutherford use the books Asperger’s on the Job: Must-Have Advice for People with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism and Their Employers, Educators, and Advocates by Rudy Simone; A Field Guide to Earthlings: An Autistic/Asperger View of Neurotypical Behavior by Ian Ford; Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome by Liane Holliday Willey; and The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations by Brenda Smith Myles, et al.
  18. But many materials Rigler and Rutherford reviewed were not appropriate for college students. They developed their own curriculum, with materials for each of the four years. The four books of the BASICS College Curriculum move students from independence, social and study strategies in year one through developing workplace skills in year four. The first two books are currently available, and the third is nearing publication (see

9/17/2015 12:00 AM

According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics, the number of students with disabilities enrolled in undergraduate degree programs is growing — from 6 percent in 1995–96 to 11 percent in 2011–12. These figures are also increasing in professional and graduate degree programs. The 2010 DOE-NCES data showed that 7.6 percent of students in such programs self-reported a disability.

According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics, the number of students with disabilities enrolled in undergraduate degree programs is growing — from 6 percent in 1995–96 to 11 percent in 2011–12. These figures are also increasing in professional and graduate degree programs. The 2010 DOE-NCES data showed that 7.6 percent of students in such programs self-reported a disability. Anecdotally, disability services providers understand that these numbers continue to grow. Qualified college graduates with disabilities, like many of their peers, are applying to graduate programs in the health sciences. Current research out of the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine seeks to determine the prevalence of students with disabilities studying medicine in the United States. Preliminary data analysis suggests that between 1 and 12 percent of students currently enrolled in these programs identify as students with disabilities. Providers with disabilities remain an underrepresented minority in the health care workforce, with the numbers being disproportionate to the magnitude of disabled people in the U.S. population.

The need for culturally competent practitioners

The Disability Rights Education Defense Fund’s Welcome to Health Care Stories series and Disability and Health: Fact Sheet Number 352 from the World Health Organization confirm that disabled people face a variety of barriers to accessing health care. Among these are attitudinal barriers, such as assumptions related to the individual’s underlying medical and nonmedical needs; communication barriers, including the absence of sign-language interpretation, or the inability to facilitate modified communication strategies; and physical barriers, such as the lack of height-adjustable exam tables, accessible mammogram machines, and accessible scales.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of more than 91,000 physicians by 2020. Given the US Census Bureau’s data reporting that approximately 56 million, or 19 percent, of Americans have disabilities — a substantial and growing number — there exist pragmatic benefits to having disabled physicians included in the health care workforce. They bring “cultural competence” to the practice of medicine, garnered through their lived experience of disability. In keeping with existing efforts within the medical profession to increase the diversity of its workforce, U.S. medical schools are taking great strides to admit and appropriately accommodate students with disabilities.

Medical education and disability

The field of medicine changes rapidly. With a long-standing commitment to innovation and discovery, medical professionals have long questioned the status quo to develop more effective treatments that save lives and enhance quality of life for patients. Similarly, advances in assistive technology have facilitated greater access to health science and medical education programs for a whole cadre of students with disabilities. However, these advances, combined with legally mandated accommodations, have yet to spark an enthusiastic reception within the medical profession. Substantial barriers persist that exclude people with disabilities from medical education and practice. These are often attitudinal in nature, or the consequence of a medical culture that expects perfection of physicians and therefore construes people with disabilities as inherently less capable of practicing medicine.

Recent legal decisions drive increased access

Regardless of whether professional schools and health science programs adopt a proactive commitment to students with disabilities, these students are entering programs in growing numbers, and the courts are supporting their right to an accessible education. Recent legal rulings suggest that courts’ past deference to academic decisions is beginning to wane. Health science programs are also being required to provide accommodations for individuals with sensory (visual or hearing) disabilities, which were not mandated previously. Both of these trends are evident in the cases Palmer College of Chiropractic v. Davenport Civil Rights Commission (850 NW2d 326 (Iowa 2014)) and Featherstone v. Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (2014 WL 3640803 (E.D. Wash. 2014)). In the Palmer case, the Iowa Supreme Court ordered the nation’s leading chiropractic college to provide disability accommodations that the college argued would fundamentally alter their educational standards. The court ruled that a blind student should be granted an aide to read radiographs and rejected the school’s assertion that eyesight is a requirement for the profession and that it would “fundamentally alter” educational standards, as many chiropractors rely on outside experts to evaluate X-ray images. Similarly, in the Featherstone case, where a university revoked admission to a deaf student, a court found that the use of American Sign Language interpreters in medical education would not cause a fundamental alteration to the educational program, nor compromise patient safety. The court ordered that the medical school admit the student, who began classes in the fall of 2014. These decisions are leading health science campuses across the nation to make changes in policy that facilitate greater access for students with disabilities.

The need for specialized providers

Specialization of disability services providers is critical when working with students in health science programs. The clinical components of education present unique challenges for students that are not adequately addressed by traditional accommodations employed in didactic classroom settings.

First, students working in these environments must adhere to strict technical standards, while demonstrating exceptional ability to work independently and as part of a team. At the same time, advanced communication skills become essential. Students must effectively communicate with patients and other practitioners on a number of topics. They are often expected to identify and interpret a variety of visual, auditory and tactile information acquired through patient interviews, physical exams, imaging and lab results — all of which may be aggregated in electronic (e.g., electronic health records) or nonelectronic formats.

Second, when assistive technology is needed in the clinical setting, it is important to understand how it may impact patient safety and confidentiality (i.e., compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

Third, communication related to one’s disability becomes more nuanced because students in clinical settings must reach multiple individuals in large hierarchical settings. These students may also incur greater scrutiny about their accommodations, and their status as a student with a disability. This can result in a hesitation to disclose or seek accommodation in the competitive, fast-paced settings of the health sciences and medical education.

Training in the clinic

A critical part of being a disability services provider in the health sciences is having a deep understanding of the program and the demands therein. To identify possible accommodation solutions, providers must be prepared to work alongside the student and clinical faculty to anticipate barriers based on the student’s disability-related functional limitations and the requirements of the program. They must also identify reasonable and creative accommodations that eliminate barriers, uphold technical standards, and do not risk patient safety. The aforementioned tasks require that disability services providers in health science programs understand the curriculum structure, technical standards, lexicon of the program, clinical requirements including how placements are made, core clerkship rotations, culture of clerkship sites, and clerkship requirements or competencies. When disability services providers understand the clinical setting and the demands of undergraduate and graduate medical education, they build credibility with school administration, clinical faculty and students, and yield better results for students.

Evidence-based research and practice

Disability services and accommodations have not been well-researched in the health sciences. Decisions about which accommodations to use, for whom, and under what clinical conditions are based on limited empirical evidence regarding their effectiveness and validity. As such, there is an urgent need for evidence-based research and practice. By integrating clinical expertise, expert opinion, scientific research, and the lived experiences of the student with disabilities and the patient receiving care, disability services providers can develop a well-informed list of best practices.

A commitment to empirically supported accommodations

Institutions are making concerted efforts to address these needs. Recently, two preeminent institutions — the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and Stanford University — appointed research practitioners to focus on evidence-based research around accommodations in higher education and in the health sciences. These newly created positions will be dedicated to working with students with disabilities and leading research and public scholarship in this and related areas. Both institutions are committed to supporting students with disabilities and to identifying innovative accommodations that reduce barriers for students with disabilities in medical education. Their shared goal is to develop a set of best practices grounded in empirical evidence.

Growing the commitment

As an increasing number of institutions recognize the need for specialization and the benefit of including disability as part of a greater commitment to diversity, we anticipate that disability services providers with a specialization in health sciences will become part of the normal landscape and a critical part of the education team. Confronting obstacles in health care and seeking ways to improve upon them, however, is the sine qua non of medicine. For students with disabilities, crafting innovative solutions to surmount everyday barriers is nothing new. What they bring to the health care workforce is a creative mindset to the procedures required of physicians in addition to a natural empathy for patients challenged by the functional implications of their diseases. The time is ripe for fresh thinking about how to develop effective accommodation strategies that enable students with disabilities to pursue their chosen professions and make lasting differences in health care.


Thanks to Dr. Gregory Moorehead, vice president of the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education and director at the University of Chicago. Parts of his interview with NPR were adapted for this article.

Thanks also to Elisa Laird-Metke, Esq., legal advisor to the coalition and director at Samuel Merritt University, for reviewing legal references in this article.

From the Editor

Disability Compliance for Higher Education is committed to informing our membership about best practices in health science programs and has partnered with the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education to bring the readers a monthly column that will address the nuanced and specialized practices in this area. Each month, a guest writer from the coalition will bring tested and sage advice to the readers from some of the most experienced disability services providers in the country. This column will begin in the January issue.

Conversation With: Emily Shryock
4/7/2015 12:00 AM

Emily Shryock, the assistant director of services for students with disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin, has used social media extensively to conduct outreach for her office and create greater awareness on campus about how it helps students with disabilities.

Emily Shryock, the assistant director of services for students with disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin, has used social media extensively to conduct outreach for her office and create greater awareness on campus about how it helps students with disabilities.

Q: How and why did you get interested in the use of social media as an outreach tool for your unit?

A: I began exploring social media about two years ago. We had a blog on our website, but I was already using Facebook personally, so I wanted to experiment with using it professionally to maintain timely communication with our students and create awareness of what was going on in an informal, engaging way.

I also wanted to engage others on campus, such as students who don’t have disabilities but who, for whatever reason, had an interest in disability. With Facebook, they could take what we post and share those items with their own networks. We now have also started using Twitter as well.

Q: What has been the outcome of your social-media efforts?

A: One unexpected but positive outcome was that we’ve really been able to extend our reach and create partnerships with other campus groups and community organizations that we otherwise would not have had an audience with. Connecting with those groups has allowed us to broaden the reach of our postings, because when they share our posts they reach all of their followers. And internally, it has contributed to creating a more connected campus and generating awareness of what my office does.

Having those connections has also meant that getting content to post regularly is never a problem. Particularly when it comes to community organizations that serve individuals with disabilities, what they post are often things that we know would be of interest to our students, so we can just share.

Q: What advice would you give someone at another institution looking to do the same thing?

A: Start small and start with what you’re comfortable with. Just because you say you’re going to do social-media outreach doesn’t mean that you have to do all kinds of social media at once to start.

For a while, I was just posting to Facebook and learning, and not necessarily advertising that we had a Facebook page. It was a couple of months before we actively began advertising our page. I wanted time to get familiar with how everything worked. With Twitter, I did the same thing — quietly posting content while figuring out how to use the platform effectively.

When we were ready to go public, we included information about our social-media efforts in our newsletter and added links to our website and email signature lines. Liking other groups’ pages and inviting students and others to “like” us also helped.

Prioritize what will go on your Facebook page and Twitter feed, because there’s a lot of content out there. For us, anything from our office gets priority, followed by university and community events, and then national and international items related to disability. And post often, so things stay fresh and you keep people engaged. We post three to five times a week, and it takes no more than five to 10 minutes to post.

Also, maintain consistency. I do all the social-media posting for our unit for that reason. At the same time, we’re very intentional about representing different kinds of disabilities equally in our postings.

For more information, you may contact Emily Shryock at

Conversation With: Melanie V. Tucker
3/10/2015 12:00 AM

Melanie V. Tucker, the assistant vice president for student affairs at Northern Illinois University, spearheaded efforts to implement the principles of universal design across her unit and campus.

Melanie V. Tucker, the assistant vice president for student affairs at Northern Illinois University, spearheaded efforts to implement the principles of universal design across her unit and campus. Below, she explains her motivations for doing so, and the outcomes.

Q: What got you interested in universal design applications for student affairs departments?

A: Prior to my current role, I served as the director of two disability resource centers, so I was very familiar with universal design to begin with. When I stepped into my current role, I realized that implementing some universal design strategies across my department was a way to not only contribute to retention initiatives, but also to increase partnerships across campus. I was particularly moved to do this by research about student persistence when students feel valued and included in their campus communities, and I wanted to move us away from the compliance and medical model toward a social justice model.

Q: How have you specifically promoted the principles of universal design within student affairs?

A: My division puts on professional development conferences each year for us and our partners across campus. I use that opportunity to conduct training for staff from offices within my department, as well as other areas of the institution, on how to infuse universal design into what they do.

Part of what I love about universal design is that it just makes sense. Once people get that universal design doesn’t have to be real complicated, there’s this sort of lightbulb moment, and suddenly they start looking at all of the things they do, down to the very basics, like how they market programs and events. For instance, do they place fliers on bulletin boards across campus? Well, that doesn’t work for everyone. So they then start considering how they might do such things differently to create inclusion.

Sometimes, people also find that what they’re already doing is in line with the principles of universal design, and so they see off the bat that being inclusive can be easy, and it doesn’t necessarily mean any added work.

Q: What advice would you have for someone at another institution looking to emulate your efforts?

A: Find allies across campus. Those folks could be faculty members or colleagues from other departments. Knowing who has people’s ears can make a big difference, because as a UD advocate, I can’t be in every meeting or at every table.

Invite people to come and have a conversation about universal design. Once you create some excitement around the topic, it will spread. Other departments have started inviting me to their departmental meetings to talk about what universal design would look like within their divisions.

And approach the conversation from a perspective that offers broad appeal. For instance, explain how inclusion creates a welcoming environment that promotes retention, not just for students with disabilities, but for all students. Don’t frame universal design as being a cure-all, but rather one more tool we can use to positively impact retention.

Counter resistance before it comes up. For example, talk about how, sure, some things can cost a lot of money, but there are many others that would cost little or nothing at all and can make a huge positive impact.

For more information, you may contact Melanie V. Tucker at

Conversation With: Elizabeth G. Harrison
1/19/2015 12:00 AM

Elizabeth G. Harrison is the director of the University of Dayton’s Office of Learning Resources and associate director of the Ryan C. Harris Learning Teaching Center. She has presented extensively on the topics of working with faculty to promote universal design and expanding accessibility for students with disabilities.

Elizabeth G. Harrison is the director of the University of Dayton’s Office of Learning Resources and associate director of the Ryan C. Harris Learning Teaching Center. She has presented extensively on the topics of working with faculty to promote universal design and expanding accessibility for students with disabilities.

Q: How can disability services providers work with faculty members to increase accessibility?

A: It’s sometimes easier to say this than to do, but disability services providers should really get to know the faculty development and learning support people on their campuses. These people can become powerful allies in reaching out to the faculty and educating them about how to broaden accessibility.

Get to know those folks on campus who, from your point of view, have roles that seem in one way or another to be related to what you do. See exactly what it is they do and how it overlaps with your own role or what you think needs to be done to broaden accessibility. Find out what they think about disability and talk with them about the things you want to do. If they’re receptive, work together on those things. Don’t think that it has to be you alone doing this, because we all care about helping students succeed.

Q: Why aren’t such collaborations more commonplace?

A: Disability services providers may sometimes think of themselves as the only people on campus who serve students with disabilities, the only ones who care about serving students with disabilities, or the only ones who can serve those students. But that’s not the case. There are many others who, if you could just help them to understand the issues facing students with disabilities, would become committed to expanding accessibility.

For some DS providers, I think it may be the case that they got into disability services because they have a family member or someone they care about who has a disability and needed support in college. Or perhaps the DS providers themselves experienced college as students with disabilities, so now they feel a personal commitment to expanding access for others, and they feel that they can’t put that commitment on others. We all operate on certain assumptions that have been built over the years as a result of our own experiences, and that can get in our way.

I encourage people to explore their own assumptions about things such as faculty and their own roles at their institutions. Ask: Why do I think I’m the only one, or my office is the only one, who can do this work? Why am I convinced others will say “no, we can’t do this” or “this won’t work”? Why do I think others may not care? Try to get past that and work intentionally to expand your own mental model while at the same time educating others to help them do the same thing.

For more information, you may contact Elizabeth G. Harrison at


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  • Meet the Editor

    Joan Hope
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    Joan Hope became editor of Disability Compliance for Higher Education in 2014. She brings years of experience in higher education and journalism to her work.

    Joan taught writing and literature courses for eight years at colleges and universities including Indiana University at Bloomington, Clark University, and Houston Community College. As a freelance journalist, she published hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines and reference books.

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