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Recommitting to an Accessible Emerson

Dear Emerson Community,

Since receiving the action plan from Access: Student Disability Union’s Access Advocacy Project on April 6, 2021, College leaders have been in discussion about the concerns brought forward by our students as well as the thoughtful actions recommended in the plan. The plan opens a pathway for conversation about how we can and must do better for our students and community members with disabilities, and for deeper engagement between students, faculty and staff in pursuit of a more equitable and accessible Emerson. We are grateful for the hard work, energy, and effort that Access students put into developing this plan.

Many of us came to study, teach and work at Emerson because of the College’s commitment to equity and inclusion. As part of that commitment, we acknowledge that we must, as the Student Disability Union’s action plan affirms, “do the hard work” to understand how ableism hampers the educational opportunities available to members of our community, and how barriers to access intersect with systemic racism and other forms of bias to create lasting harm.

As a community, we must do better for our students and community members with disabilities.  We must prioritize universal design in all that we do, and we must develop practices that are flexible and intuitive in support of equitable learning. We must educate ourselves on the ways in which we are complicit in ableism, and we must commit to addressing issues that disproportionately affect community members with disabilities.

While many of the points presented in the Action Plan require greater levels of interaction and engagement across the community, particularly in regard to matters under shared governance, College leaders can commit to several key actions:

  • The College will add additional staff to the Student Accessibility Services Office to allow greater levels of service and responsiveness to students.
  • Beginning this summer, educational modules for incoming students will include information on accessibility.
  • Starting this fall student organization training will include a more detailed focus on ableism and commitment to access.
  • Spacebook will be updated on an ongoing basis to provide more direct cues for planners to provide accessible meetings and events.
  • The existing Accessibility Advisory Board will be evaluated with a focus on including more students with disabilities, collaborating with students in agenda setting, and adding support to meet its charge of guiding the college in setting priorities and identifying areas of concern.
  • Academic Affairs has issued a response that acknowledges where we are today and makes commitments to future progress toward dismantling ableism.  The response, which is available on the Academic Affairs Inclusive Excellence web page and downloadable here, provides information that describes current programming as well as future plans and commitments to concrete steps.
  • ECPD has issued a public apology for sharing images of puzzle pieces on social media—images that cause harm to individuals who are on the autism spectrum: “The ECPD posted images to highlight Autism Awareness Day in support of community members who are on the autism spectrum or who have family members, friends, and loved ones who are autistic. After receiving feedback from our community about the concern that these symbols can cause, we removed them from our social media accounts. We apologize for causing harm to any members of the community.”
  • Following the recommendations of the Leadership in Digital Accessibility Working Group, which was initiated by President Pelton, the College is developing a policy and a set of recommendations that will promote inclusion for our community by improving the availability of accessible digital content and services. The recommendations look to define and formalize existing roles and responsibilities; increase resources for auditing technology, remediating systems, training staff, and supporting the community in producing accessible content and developing accessible sites/systems; investigate campus-wide solutions for captioning/transcribing media content; engage an enterprise-level automated testing partner; aim for newly purchased or licensed services to meet current accessibility standards.

We acknowledge that we have much more work ahead, and it will take the commitment of all community members to create the more equitable Emerson that we envision. As part of that commitment, it’s incumbent upon all of us to think more broadly and deeply about access, and to identify and deconstruct ableism in all its forms.

Sincerely,

Lee Pelton, President
Jim Hoppe, Vice President and Dean of Campus Life
Sylvia Spears, Vice President for Equity and Social Justice

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