External Review Final Report
Student Disability Services
Johns Hopkins University
Amanda Kraus, Ph. D.
Assistant Vice President, Campus Life
Executive Director and ADA/504 Compliance Officer, Disability Resources
University of Arizona
Kristie Orr, Ph. D.
Director, Disability Resources
Texas A&M University
The Office of the Provost commissioned a review of Student Disability Services (SDS) during the academic year 2022-2023 through the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). The goals for the review included thoroughly and expertly assess the intersection of the University and policies, practices, and activities related to individuals with disabilities; strategically apply current best-practice standards and philosophical models of administration; and ultimately provide a comprehensive report of findings, recommendations, and strategies for excellence in providing resources to individuals with disabilities in higher education. Johns Hopkins last completed an outside review in 2017 which resulted in the move to a centralized accommodations request system, centrally coordinating services moving away from a school-based model, the hiring of additional staff, and improved space for SDS and testing services on the Homewood campus.
The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) is an organization with over 4,400 individual members representing nearly 2,300 institutions of higher education in the United States and 16 other countries. AHEAD is the premiere professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education. As an international resource, AHEAD values diversity, personal growth and development, and creativity; promotes leadership and exemplary practices; provides professional development and disseminates information; and orchestrates resources through partnership and collaboration. AHEAD dynamically addresses current and emerging issues with respect to disability, education, and accessibility to achieve universal access.
While based in the most current research and philosophy in organizational excellence, universal design, and student-centered educational models, AHEAD utilized three widely accepted and espoused tools for gathering and evaluating information then analyzing the findings and preparing comprehensive recommendations for the institution: The AHEAD Professional Standards, The AHEAD Program Standards, and the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) Program Standards; each of which inter-support the others in the pursuit of excellence.
The AHEAD Consultants
Dr. Amanda Kraus, Ph.D. is currently Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and Executive Director for Disability Resources at the University of Arizona. UA’s Disability Resource Center is one of the largest in the nation, and considered an international model of progressive service delivery, uniquely positioned to approach campus access systemically.
Dr. Kraus is also Associate Professor of Practice in UA’s Center for the Study of Higher Education where she coordinates the MA program and teaches courses on student services and disability in higher education. She looks to disability studies to inform research and teaching that challenges deficit or tragedy rhetoric on disability and frame disability in the context of social justice, shaped by dynamics of power and privilege.
Dr. Kraus is President for the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) Board of Directors and has had the privilege of delivering keynote addresses and facilitating workshops at institutions such as Singapore Management University, Duke University, Wake Forest University, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and was recently invited to join a delegation convened by the US Department of State to engage in dialogue on disability access in education and employment in Beijing, China and again in Washington, D.C. Her outreach focuses on reframing disability, ableism, microaggressions, disability equity and universal design.
Outside of work, Dr. Kraus is an avid wheelchair tennis player and serves on the Board of Visit Tucson. Dr. Kraus earned her MA and Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in Higher Education.
Kristie Orr, Ph.D. is the Director of Disability Resources at Texas A&M University. She is past president of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and currently serves on the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities which makes recommendations on disability issues and helps promote compliance with disability-related laws. She frequently provides peer workshops, lectures, and external reviews at state and national conferences and on campuses throughout the United States. Orr received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology from Texas A&M University, College Station and a Master of Education in Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Drs. Kraus and Orr provided a consummate level of expertise, wisdom, understanding, and integrity to this assessment and planning program for JHU.
Johns Hopkins University (Hopkins) contracted with the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) to complete a comprehensive program review of its Student Disability Services (SDS) with a specific interest in ensuring SDS processes were not only compliant, but in line with national best practices. The Executive Summary outlines the high-level findings from all information reviewed.
External reviewers visited the Hopkins campus for two days, March 15-16, 2023, and interviewed SDS staff, SDS-affiliated students, and faculty and staff from both the Homewood and East Baltimore campuses. A total of 145 individuals participated in the review: 35 students, 22 faculty, 70 staff and 18 SDS staff, representing various areas of campus, and a diversity of student majors and faculty disciplines. In addition to feedback from the participants with whom the reviewers met over two days, this review is reflective of information compiled by SDS to provide context, including a comprehensive self-study based on the nine AHEAD Competencies and data from the AHEAD Student, Faculty, and Staff surveys administered in the fall 2022. In addition to examining SDS current practices to ensure compliance and efficiency, other goals for this review included exploring how Hopkins can more consistently represent disability across policy, space, curricula, and culture, as well as more effectively advocate for accessibility and inclusion, and addressing progress since the last review in 2017.
SDS has seen great change in its organization and also in its student numbers and requests. Hopkins engaged in a review similar to this one in 2017. Consistent with most campuses across the country, Hopkins’ enrollment is rising and students who affiliate with a disability resource center do so with increasingly complex requests (AHEAD, 2023). SDS has seen an increase in affiliated students every year since they began collecting data with a 48% increase in the number of affiliated students between 2018-2022 according to departmental summary data. In response to the rising student affiliation and increased complexity of the work, Hopkins has been working to reorganize disability services and centralize student access under the auspices of SDS. As recently as 2017, each college/school campus had a different disability resources provider, very few of whom had dedicated disability positions, therefore balancing accommodations with other responsibilities. There was very little connection across offices, and processes and procedures were different for each campus. SDS continues to work toward full centralization of student accommodations and strengthen and streamline communication with faculty, staff, and students.
Relatedly, and consistent with national trends, faculty are increasingly concerned about student wellness and feel unprepared to support them. As expressed during this review, and anecdotally on other campuses, faculty indicate needing more support from their disability resources colleagues in implementing accommodations effectively in the classroom. Since their 2017 review and in response to faculty and student demand, SDS has added staff members in a variety of roles including assistive technology. All SDS offices have converted to using the Accessibility Information Management (AIM) database. A central database is recommended best practice for streamlined confidential, and efficient service and supports SDS’ goal of complete centralization of student accommodations.
As disability becomes more politicized in American higher education and in greater society, there is a higher demand for equity and less patience or gratitude for basic accessibility. Students at Hopkins are demanding a more seamless experience with respect to campus access. This can be challenging for disability resource centers across the country, limited by financial and even legal constraints. During our review, we spoke with professionals and students alike about the boundaries of any disability resource center and how access and equity were related, yet very different, outcomes. While SDS is a key advocate for disability across campus, they are not wholly responsible for disability at Hopkins, nor can they ensure equity for disabled community members, hence the emphasis on strong administrative support and strategic collaborations in the recommendations.
Department Strengths and Challenges
Student Disability Services (SDS) has made wide scale changes since the last external review. In preparation for this external review, they completed a comprehensive self-study based on the nine AHEAD Competencies and data from the AHEAD Student, Faculty, and Staff surveys administered in the fall 2022. The reviewers concur with the internal review findings and note the many ways SDS is in line with national best practice as well as compliance with federal law. Many of the people interviewed across a variety of constituent groups commented on the improvements since the hiring of a university-wide executive director for SDS. Stakeholders report satisfaction with the centralization of the SDS offices across the various campuses and noted that change as being key to the office success. All SDS offices have converted to using one data management system, Accessible Information Management (AIM) and the university is committed to developing positions that are solely responsible for disability work and providing training for the staff in those positions. They are moving in a positive direction and are open to making continued changes for improvement.
During this same time, the number of students affiliating with SDS is increasing as are the complexity of student requests. Some students report dissatisfaction with SDS, particularly on the Homewood Campus. They do not feel supported as disabled individuals and do not recognize the work that has been done to improve access. Students on the health sciences campuses generally report greater satisfaction both with SDS staff and the support they feel. Many faculty also expressed concerns about the student experience and both faculty and staff from across campus indicated support for accessibility and the desire to see the culture change at Johns Hopkins.
Review of Progress on 2017 Recommendations
- Create an Executive Director of Student Disability Services:
Complete. The Executive Director was hired in 2019.
- Develop a Single Registration and Documentation Status Process:
Complete. SDS implemented a single database software across all campuses.
- Develop Testing Centers for Accommodated Testing
In progress: Testing spaces across campus are not as robust as they need to be, especially with the increasing numbers of students affiliating with SDS, but SDS has secured additional space for the SDS Homewood campus and are exploring it for the E. Baltimore campus. These efforts should be continued with additional exploration of space in the new DC campus facility and included in university’s overall space planning.
- Develop and Staff Adaptive Technology Lab
Partially complete. Assistive technology staff have been hired and a center has been set up. There is an opportunity to audit where students are able to access AT across the various campuses to ensure that students have access as needed.
Primary recommendations (in no particular order)
The following recommendations are based on the totality of the information reviewed.
- Centralization: We recommend that Johns Hopkins continues to pursue centralizing all disability resources and services across all nine schools and programs.
- Dedicated disability roles: SDS staff should focus explicitly and only on disability access and accommodations.
Policies and Procedures
- Digital Accessibility Policy: Given the risk in this area, Johns Hopkins is highly encouraged to develop a university wide digital accessibility policy.
- Increased support for faculty: As on most campuses, faculty at Hopkins expressed a need for increased education and support so they can better, more fully understand their roles and responsibilities with respect to classroom accommodations. Regular faculty trainings that are offered have had fairly limited attendance so considering ways to increase buy-in and support this mechanism are recommended.
- Planning and design: University Facilities should adopt and post design standards for accessibility and inclusion that exceed ADA guidelines, in partnership with stakeholder offices, to guide new construction and major renovations.
- Physical access: Hopkins should address signage and maintenance issues. There should be transparent communication about projects that impede access and an easy way to report barriers. Progress has been made in wayfinding with the new accessibility map (PDF) and the university is encouraged to continue to explore other ways to both increase physical accessibility as well as notify students when there are changes to accessible routes.
Campus Culture and Climate
- Administrative messaging: Students, faculty, and staff need to hear clearly and explicitly from university leadership that accessibility is a priority at Hopkins and updates on actions to improve access and inclusion must be communicated.
- Increased support for faculty: As on most campuses, faculty at Hopkins expressed a need for increased education and support so they can better, more fully understand their roles and responsibilities with respect to classroom accommodations. We would recommend clearer information on how SDS determines accommodations as well as more individualized conversation around specific accommodations like flexibility or captioning. Faculty also need to be well versed in the student process so they can support students appropriately in requesting accommodations. Per faculty suggestion, training materials should be sent at appropriate times during the academic year and available on demand.
- Additional support for professional programs and course directors: Professional programs need support to ensure that students are assigned to appropriate and accessible rotation/clinical sites. Access should be discussed as early as possible in the assignment process and the programs and/or SDS should engage with employment sites and educate them on accessibility and ways to mitigate any disability bias in the workplace. Course directors have an important role in overseeing large courses and would benefit from additional attention so they can better support their faculty in ensuring accessibility and/or designing courses with fewer barriers.
- Hopkins Universal Design for Learning (HUDL): There is a current Universal Design for Learning group in which faculty and instructional designers are developing and teaching classes using UDL. These efforts need to be publicized and incentivized to show the university’s priority of accessibility for all students.
- Disability Advancement Council: The university should develop a disability advancement council where faculty and staff with primary responsibility for accessibility meet and share ideas and strategies. This should include facilities, IT, athletics, faculty development, SDS, and others that the university identifies. This group should hold regular meetings to address challenges that arise.
- Infuse disability and anti-ableism training into campus-wide programming and training. Disability is regularly left out of diversity and inclusion efforts in higher education, positioning it solely as a compliance issue. While access is an important aspect of the disability experience, it is not the totality of the experience. During this review, Hopkins’ students, staff, and faculty, alike, expressed their interest in learning more about disability culture, ableism and universal design. We recommend engaging with student affairs and faculty affairs to promote learning opportunities in support of disability inclusion and anti-ableism.
Student Engagement and Communication
- Student engagement: SDS administered full AHEAD review surveys in Spring 2021 with about 250 students participating, has engaged with student groups (both disability-related and broader student government organizations), and has conducted listening sessions at each of the schools with one specifically dedicated to leadership. Students, however, report being unsatisfied with listening sessions. SDS should continue their regular mechanisms for soliciting feedback from students but may also consider creating a student advisory board that could provide input and feedback to continue the conversations between students and SDS to continue the improvements that have been made. Students also need regular communication about changes that are being made and how their feedback is impacting the university.
- SDS website: The SDS website should be simplified, and all students should be able to get the information they need without multiple clicks.
This report summarizes findings from an in-depth external review, and articulates specific strengths as well as areas for improvement, many of which were consistent with SDS staff perspectives and data collected in advance of the review from staff and students. This report includes recommendations to improve departmental processes and overall efficiency by focusing on internal processes, staffing, and space as well as university-wide improvements. The report also addresses opportunities to increase outreach and visibility on campus.
Johns Hopkins and SDS have improved in many areas since the 2017 report. Faculty and staff report that centralization and additional staff dedicated solely to disability work have made a big difference in accessibility and responsiveness. All campuses have converted to AIM, making the student, faculty, and SDS staff member experiences more streamlined and user friendly. Testing spaces have been identified to some extent but there is more work to be done in this area. The AT area has expanded greatly with new staff and a new focus on this area. A continuing concern is that the student experience is not consistent across all campuses. Further centralization needs to occur and transparency about processes and changes needs to be at the forefront.
Overall, SDS processes are compliant and effective at ensuring disability access. Hopkins is meeting legal requirements, but this cannot and will not, alone, elevate disability inclusion or equity at the institutional level. If Hopkins continues to demonstrate the institutional support found in this review and provides the necessary resources and administrative commitment, Hopkins could become a leader in the field.