HANOVER — Dartmouth College is short of the mark when it comes to serving students with disabilities, but the college is moving in the right direction, according to an assessment done as part of a lawsuit.
The law firm Drummond Woodsum and the organization Access-4-All LLC were called in to perform the assessment as part of the lawsuit brought by student Staci Mannella, a sight-impaired student who sued the school in 2017. The assessment is a result of a consent decree issued by a federal judge in the case.
“Both the number of students served and complexity of student accommodation needs contributed to these findings but were not the only reasons for the shortcomings noted,” according to the assessment report, released late last month.
Mannella, a Paralympic Alpine skier, was a student-athlete at Dartmouth and a member of the Dartmouth equestrian team. She claimed in her lawsuit that her academic pursuits at Dartmouth were thwarted by college administrators who did not provide her with the resources she needed to pursue her degree.
The lawsuit claimed that she was not provided with test readers and in some cases tests could only be taken by those with vision.
“She failed her first biology test because the test required her to identify microscope images which are very visual,” the lawsuit states.
When she approached the professor during the test for help, the lawsuit states, the professor told her she “should think about transferring to a school that was less academically challenging, with a longer term and slower curriculum.”
The assessment found the school was not able to fully comply with the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), largely due to the college’s Student Accessibility Services office being understaffed and in need of reorganization and better funding.
“Stakeholders expressed concern that the College’s budget cuts in Student Affairs convey a lack of commitment to support the growing number and demands of students with disabilities by limiting infrastructure and leadership support,” the assessment states. “There is at least a perception that such budget cuts do not affect departments if situated within Academic Affairs.”
The assessment report did find that the college was making progress to implement changes to improve the way students with disabilities are treated.
Among other changes, the college will adopt a set of new grievance procedures for addressing alleged failures to provide reasonable accommodations. It will also begin the process of implementing a data management system to facilitate students accessing accommodations, and expand availability of the school’s Student Accessibility Services testing center.
“We owe thanks to Staci Mannella for leading us to review the services we offer, enhance our oversight of accessibility services, and develop new training programs for faculty and staff,” said Kathryn Lively, Dartmouth’s dean.