BBI's Eddie Zaremba, a member of the committee to issue report on SU disability, quoted in the Daily Orange

September 27, 2019

Eddie Zaremba headshot

The Disability External Review Committee chose HirePotential, a consulting firm that focuses on disability inclusion and compliance, to conduct the review.

By Emma FoltsGillian Follett
Source: THE DAILY ORANGE

An external consulting firm conducting a disabilities service review hired by Syracuse University is expected to deliver its final report before the end of the fall semester.  SU announced the formation of the Disability External Review Committee in April 2018. The committee is comprised of students, faculty and staff. Joanna Masingila, dean of the School of Education, and Michael Schwartz, associate professor in the College of Law, serve as co-chairs. Several updates regarding the external review have been provided to the campus community since the announcement. 

Chancellor Kent Syverud formed the committee at the end of the spring 2018 semester, after announcing the university would conduct a disability services review in December 2017. Its work, however, did not fully begin until fall 2018, said Kevin Treadway, a member of the review committee and president of SU’s Disability Student Union. In mid-spring 2019, the committee selected HirePotential, Inc — a firm that conducts audits of disability services and compliance with disability law. Consultants from the firm began their work in late spring, Treadway said.  It’s been about five months since the actual external review began, he said. The final report is expected to be submitted to the chancellor next semester. “I personally do not believe that this is a slow pace, given the complex nature of the review,” Treadway said. 

SU convened the committee to determine whether gaps exist in the university’s current disability services and accessibility measures, said Masingila and Steven Bennett, senior vice president for academic operations, in a joint email statement. HirePotential is evaluating SU’s accessibility compliance in terms of academics, facility infrastructure, service provision, campus culture, administrative structure and IT, Bennett and Masingila said. They said the firm’s consultants are assessing the services offered by several university departments, including the Office of Disability Services; the Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services; and Information Technology Services.

Paula Possenti-Perez, director of ODS and a committee member, said the consultants have surveyed students, faculty and staff, seeking as much feedback as possible. “There was a tremendous amount of intentionality to get the students’ lived experiences at all aspects, so it’s not just in the classroom, but in living and moving about campus,” she said. 

Eddie Zaremba, a third year law student, said it was difficult to provide specifics on how SU can improve disability accessibility and services, but said time and people’s needs change. The university has become more focused on veteran populations, which carries the cultural and assumed identities of disability, he said.  Disability services traces back to the student experience, Zaremba said.  “If you’re a student and you come here, do you feel like you’re going to get all the tools that you need to succeed?” he said. “Are you going to get your accommodations?”

After HirePotential completes its review of SU’s disability services and accessibility compliance, the committee will choose which of the firm’s recommended changes the university should prioritize in the future, Bennett and Masingila said. The committee will deliver suggestions to the university administration about how these recommended changes should be implemented at SU. HirePotential provided an update on its findings to the review committee in August and revealed several observations that the firm has determined to be noteworthy so far. 

Bennett and Masinglia said HirePotential found that SU is “well positioned” to address accessibility and inclusion, and the campus seems willing to address questions of accessibility and inclusion. The firm also determined that initiatives like the National Veterans Resource Center demonstrate SU’s commitment to reaching their best practice. The last observation from HirePotential noted there is “something of (a) disconnect” between offices and administrators. In some areas there are unclear lines of accountability, lack of internal coordination, and a need, in some areas, for more well-articulated strategies,” Bennett and Masingla said.

The consultants called Keith Alford’s appointment as SU’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer in May “an excellent predicate to progress in accessibility.” HirePotential recommended that SU prioritize improving the physical accessibility of campus buildings and increasing the availability of accessible transportation, Bennett and Masingila said.  Treadway and former DSU President Priya Penner were the only undergraduate students selected to serve on the committee, but Penner is no longer on the committee, Treadway said. Penner did not respond to a request for comment.  Treadway said more undergraduates should serve on the committee. “I do not believe it is right for a single student to represent the entire undergraduate body on a University-wide committee,” he said.

SU published the results of a month-long external review of its Greek life in January. The review began in the wake of the Theta Tau videos controversy, in April 2018. The university hired the organizational consulting firms NPower and Limberlost Consulting to conduct the external Greek life review. Consultants provided SU with 30 recommendations to improve six areas of SU’s Greek life.  Though the external review of disability services and accessibility has taken about half the time of the Greek life audit, Treadway said he understands and sympathizes with frustration around what seems like a lack of progress with the review. The university is investing significant time and funding to become a leading institution for people with disabilities, he said. 

“I know that Chancellor Syverud and his administration care about us,” Treadway said. “Even if the nature and status of that care and support for reform is not yet fully public, work is happening. Reform is being diligently pursued.”


About the Burton Blatt Institute
The Burton Blatt Institute (“BBI”) at Syracuse University reaches around the globe in its efforts to advance the civic, economic, and social participation of people with disabilities. Through program development, research, and public policy guidance, BBI advances the full inclusion of people with disabilities. BBI builds on the legacy of Burton Blatt, a pioneering disability rights scholar. BBI has offices in Syracuse, NY; Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; New York City, NY; and Lexington, KY. For more information about BBI, visit: http://bbi.syr.edu