Disability Inclusion and Accessibility
University Update on AHEAD Recommendations
November 10, 2023
Johns Hopkins University’s Second Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion underscores our unwavering commitment to the inherent dignity and worth of every individual. It serves as our guiding document, moving us toward a future where equitable outcomes and inclusion for people with disabilities are no longer aspirations but realities. This roadmap firmly establishes that while diversity is essential, it alone is insufficient. Every member of our community should enjoy equal opportunities to participate meaningfully and thrive within the Johns Hopkins ecosystem. These principles, among others, continue to shape our ongoing efforts to remove disparities in access and foster inclusivity for disabled members of the Hopkins community.
During the 2022-2023 academic year, at the direction of the provost’s office, Student Disability Services (SDS) underwent a thorough third-party review conducted by the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), the premier professional association dedicated to the full participation of individuals with disabilities in postsecondary education. AHEAD takes a dynamic approach to addressing contemporary and emerging issues in disability, education, and accessibility, with the aim of achieving universal access.
This external review was initiated to comprehensively assess the University’s policies, practices, and activities concerning individuals with disabilities. It was designed to strategically apply the latest best-practice standards and administrative philosophies, ultimately providing a comprehensive report comprising findings, recommendations, and strategies for excellence in providing resources to individuals with disabilities in higher education. Given the structural changes and increased services SDS underwent following the external consultant review in 2017, this updated assessment was deemed advantageous.
We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the students, faculty, and staff who actively participated in the review and contributed to the overarching recommendations. Please find the Executive Summary from AHEAD, offering an overview of these recommendations. Notably, AHEAD’s review found no compliance issues with the SDS process, and their recommendations aligned with and reinforced our ongoing assessment and planning. Many recommendations from the review have already been successfully implemented, and the rest are actively in progress. The SDS newsletter, Breaking Down Barriers, will periodically update the community on progress related to the AHEAD review recommendations.
Effective July 1, 2023, all professional staff within Student Disability Services (SDS) now report centrally to SDS in full-time roles. This operational transformation marks a shift from numerous part-time disability service roles previously reporting to schools, with dotted reporting lines to SDS. SDS is organized into four hubs: the DC/Professional Hub, the E. Baltimore Hub, the Homewood Hub, and the University-wide Office. This reorganization included expanding or consolidating part-time roles into full-time positions, ensuring a depth of expertise in disability services and the necessary time and capacity to adhere to best practices. Since the last review in 2017, the University has made substantial investments in hiring additional staff. There are two remaining positions to fill within the Homewood Hub, one existing and one new, and once fully staffed SDS will have 19 full-time positions universitywide. These positions encompass roles such as exam coordinators, assistive technology specialists, a communication access specialist, and professional staff deeply versed in disability services.
Process and Procedures
In close collaboration with the Office of Institution Equity (OIE), SDS has worked diligently to streamline processes and enhance accessibility for students.
- SDS and OIE have revised grievance and appeal procedures for students with disabilities to increase clarity and accountability.
- On August 14, 2023, SDS launched the new university-wide website, sds.jhu.edu. This platform serves as a unified gateway to access school-specific SDS sites, featuring essential information on accommodation requests and organizing resources related to disability accommodations, accessibility, and inclusion.
- SDS staff at the School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and School of Education are now focusing on accommodations within clinical and internship settings. We have updated handbooks and procedures to provide more specific guidance in these contexts.
- SDS is currently in the process of revising accommodation descriptions to enhance clarity and provide more guidance within accommodation letters.
- There are SDS designated liaisons within each of the schools, working closely to ensure that practices and policies do not differentially impact students with disabilities.
Facilities and Accessibility
The university is undertaking several initiatives to enhance the accessibility of our facilities and resources and disseminate related information.
- An updated Homewood Campus Accessibility Map was developed and published in August 2022. As a subsequent step, we are working on an interactive Accessible Wayfinding App, slated for release in Spring 2024.
- SDS and the Office of Institution Equity (OIE) are collaborating closely with Johns Hopkins Facilities and Real Estate (JHFRE) to develop guidelines for new construction and renovations, prioritizing enhancements for increased accessibility and inclusion. Subsequent to the campus accessibility review in 2021, ongoing work to improve accessibility on the Homewood campus has prioritized areas that will have a greater impact. Several significant capital projects in construction or design demonstrate the university’s progression in incorporating inclusive design principles.
- The Hopkins Student Center, currently in construction, was designed to allow at grade access at all four levels of the building, providing an effective means of transiting significant grade changes at an important crossroads for the university. Additionally, consultation with faculty, staff and students provided feedback on the interior design that resulted in adjustments and increased accessible atrium seating.
- Currently, the Library Renovation and new building honoring Henrietta Lacks are specifically being designed to create zero-grade accessible entries as well as improvements to building circulation, restrooms, and offices, classrooms, and study spaces.
- There is an ongoing effort to develop additional exam accommodation space, with a focus on both Homewood and E. Baltimore. Homewood exam space in Shaffer has expanded with the addition of Shaffer 100.The first phase of renovations in Shaffer are planned for winter break and will increase the number of carrels and seats as well as enhance storage and reduce distractions. A second phase of renovations will take place in summer 2024.
- New Digital Accessibility Guidelines are being developed, under the purview of university wide Information Technology (IT) and with the guidance of our newly hired Web Accessibility Coordinator (as of 1/20/2022). To ensure ongoing student input, a Student Advisory Committee for the Digital Accessibility Working Group, launched in Fall 2023.
- As part of a university-wide effort to embed disability in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, two pivotal positions have been created within the university diversity and inclusion teams. These positions are committed to anchoring disability within this sphere and advancing broader work on culture and climate.
- The inaugural Director for Disability Culture and Inclusion assumed their role on October 2, 2023, within the Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
- Furthermore, an Assistant Director for Disability Outreach position has been established within the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, with an active search underway.
- OIE has developed two new employee training programs to support disability inclusion. “ADA Workplace Accommodations at JHU” and “Disability Inclusion at JHU” are both now accessible through MyLearning, providing guidance on the workplace accommodation process and how to work inclusively with individuals with disabilities.
- To recognize and celebrate the significant impact made by students, faculty, and staff in our community, advocating for change and increasing access and inclusion, the second annual SDS Awards Ceremony was held on May 5, 2023.
Student and Faculty Engagement
Both student and faculty engagement have remained focal points of SDS’s efforts over the past few years, and this was reaffirmed by the review’s findings.
- SDS has worked closely with Equal Access in Science and Medicine, Advocates for Disability Awareness, and the SGA Disability Caucus to revise and augment questions in the annual AHEAD student survey, conducted each May.
- On April 14, 2023, the university launched the university-wide Disability Inclusion Advisory Committee (DIAC), reporting to the provost and chaired by a faculty member. DIAC comprises students, faculty, and staff, with the majority of the membership having lived experiences with disabilities.
- To enhance communication and transparency with the student and learner disability community, SDS introduced a Newsletter, “Breaking Down Barriers” (BDB) in May 2023. The newsletter will highlight programs as well as faculty, staff, and students contributing to a more inclusive climate and culture at Hopkins.
- In collaboration with students in the Homewood and E. Baltimore Hubs, two new chapters of the Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society were established, recognizing the academic achievements of Hopkins students with disabilities.
- Furthermore, SDS collaborated with the SGA Disability Caucus on SDS Faculty program revisions for 2022-2023.
Faculty support and programming have been enhanced by SDS in recent years, a need that was also reinforced by the review’s findings.
- SDS recorded an updated university-wide program for faculty, “Anticipating and Accommodating Disabled Students,” informed by student input.
- SDS collaborated with the Engineering for Professionals program, to develop a required, professional, module-based faculty program, that resulted in over 94% faculty participation. This program can serve as a template to expand faculty training in other schools.
- SDS has also published SDS Faculty Handbooks for each school.
This series of actions and initiatives showcases the University’s unwavering commitment to nurturing an inclusive environment for students with disabilities. We are resolute in our determination to ensure that our academic programs, support services, and facilities are accessible and inclusive to all. Notably, significant headway has been made in implementing the majority of the suggested enhancements, including refining the organizational structure of SDS, expanding staff resources, and updating policies and procedures. We are committed to ongoing collaboration with DIAC and the broader community to continue to address the remaining recommendations, focusing on enhancing campus culture, implementing comprehensive training and education, and continuously evaluating testing space needs. Recognizing that this endeavor is an ongoing journey, demanding sustained dedication to effect enduring change, we deeply appreciate the significance and value of partnerships throughout the university. We eagerly look forward to continuing these collaborative efforts.
Our sincere gratitude goes to the AHEAD team for their insightful review and invaluable recommendations. The periodic independent assessments have played a pivotal role in guiding our ongoing initiatives and will continue to be instrumental in our future endeavors.