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At Carolina Conversation, people with disabilities share ‘lived experience’

The session emphasized the importance of including people with disabilities in conversations about policies and practices.

The Old Well.
View of the Old Well on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on July 10, 2018. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The University Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted the University’s second Carolina Conversation session of the semester Oct. 23. The discussion focused on accommodating people with disabilities.

Led by Tiffany Bailey, the director of the Office of Accessibility Resources and Service, the session emphasized the importance of including people with disabilities in conversations about policies and practices. The wide-ranging session included discussions about words to use to describe disabilities, ways to ask for and receive accommodations and universal design principles.

Bailey could relate. She also has a disability, a genetic disorder akin to muscular dystrophy.

“I have a lived experience as a person with disabilities. Surprise!” said Bailey, who has a genetic disorder akin to muscular dystrophy. She started using a scooter to get around when she became pregnant with her 5-year-old daughter, but she’s not chairbound, she said.

Bailey’s office has identified 1,550 Carolina students who need their services, a challenge for her four-person staff. Accommodations include extended time to take tests or turn in papers and projects, course substitutions, more choices in how to complete an assignment, changes to increase the readability of instruction presentations and physical adaptations for those using wheelchairs, scooters or other aids.

“Students are a little fearful of that power dynamic with the instructor,” Bailey said, so they come to ARS for assistance. (Faculty and staff members seeking accommodations should contact the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office.) “We determine accommodations that can be made, what’s reasonable, how can we move forward.”

The bottom line is that making accommodations is a “collective responsibility,” Bailey said. But she also expects reasonable accommodations to be made for people who need them. She expects people with disabilities to be honest and upfront about their needs and for others to accept what they say, sometimes despite appearances.

“People are the experts on their own disabilities,” Bailey said.

As the session drew to a close, Bailey thanked the participants for sharing their experiences and invited them to come to ARS to talk. “If you are just having a negative experience or you’re noticing something a theme or a pattern, let us know. We’re here and we’re trying to educate the campus community the best that we can.”