Who Defines What is Academic?

Sharon’s Frustrating Week Defining the ADA: What an experience I had at my doctoral program’s summer session last week. I am currently enrolled in Fielding Graduate University, the only APA-accredited distance learning program for clinical psychology in the USA. This means that instead of sitting in a classroom with professors and students, most of my classes are online seminars or independent learning projects.

Once a month I meet in Baltimore with my classmates and a professor, for what we call “cluster” meetings. Fielding also holds week-long national sessions where everyone gathers in the same place and spends the week attending classes together. That’s what I was doing last week in Alexandria, Virginia. What an exasperating week it was! For me, the biggest challenge at summer session was not the academic part, but the struggle to get the university to schedule interpreters for activities both inside AND outside of the classroom.

The university readily provided interpreters for all of my formal classes and seminars, meetings with advisors and deans, and featured guest speakers at night. Getting the university to scheule interpreters for other events such as the multicultural students panel, community meetings in the morning, and networking lunches was not so easy. The advisor who books my interpreters said that Fielding is required by the ADA only to provide interpreters for “academic” events, which they define as formal classes and nothing else. Never mind the fact that one of the biggest reasons they offer the week-long national sessions is so that students and professors can strengthen their relationships in face-to-face interactions.

On top of this, I am supposed to alert the university 60 days in advance about when I will need interpreters for any Fielding-related classes or meetings. If I sign up to attend a national session when registration opens up five weeks before the session, the 60-day advance notice rule is impossible to uphold. And if I need to meet in-person with a professor, am I supposed to wait two months for an interpreter to be located? I patiently explained several times to the graduate advisor and two deans about my request to have interpreters available throughout the day, since the whole week was an “academic” experience, whether in the classroom, at a poster session, or in the lobby.

Fielding finally agreed to give me interpreters for most of the week, by which time I was already exhausted from pleading my case, invoking the ADA, and arguing about what “academic” really means. This was after I had been told that my interpreting costs were eating up over 90% of the budget Fielding had allotted for “disability support services” for the entire year. And after I was informed that one student in a wheelchair was forced to pay out-of-pocket for her personal assistant because Fielding didn’t have money left in its budget to cover that expense. It was obvious they wanted to make me feel guilty about taking money from the student in the wheelchair and others. Needless to say, the next step I plan to take is to write a letter to the Fielding administration requesting an overhaul of the interpreting scheduling process.

Multicultural Students’ Support: On a nicer note, I shared my exasperation about the interpreting situation during a panel session for the Multicultural Students Association one night last week. Everyone was very supportive and empathic. Listening to students’ perspectives on multicultural issues in the university, I could identify with many of their stories. It really brought home to me the feeling of being a member of a cultural minority group as a Deaf person, especially when it was mostly other minority students and allies who offered their their warmth and understanding.

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