RIC’s Disability Services Center is located in Fogarty Hall.
The goal of the Disability Services Center and Affirmative Action Office at RIC is to transcend mandatory compliance and achieve inclusive excellence on campus. Both offices are under the auspices of RIC Associate Vice President for Community, Equity and Diversity Anna Cano Morales.
Regarding disability services, Cano Morales said, “At RIC, we do a very good job with advocating for our students in terms of accessing housing or campus resources. The goal is to make RIC stand out as a leader in the region and country.’’
Several initiatives are on the drawing board to make that a reality.
“We can certainly ensure that we properly staff the Disability Services Center to meet the needs of an ever-growing population,’’ Cano Morales said. “However, it will take time to determine how we can engage faculty and staff regarding scholarship about disabilities which includes mental, emotional and learning disabilities.’’
Another long-term disability services initiative is to create a testing center for students who need extra time or quiet rooms to take tests due to learning disabilities, she said.
From left are RIC Associate Vice-President for Community, Equity and Diversity Anna Cano Morales; Disability Services Center Director Keri Rossi-D’entremont; Disability Services Center Coordinator Jose Rosario and Director of Institutional Equity Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta, who also serves as affirmative action officer and Title IX coordinator at RIC.
According to Disability Services Center Director Keri Rossi-D’entremont, her office’s “student-centered approach’’ has been strengthened by hiring Jose Rosario, a 2017 RIC graduate of psychology and chemical dependency/addiction studies, as coordinator in August. Rosario said his main objective in the position is “to provide support and remind students that they can accomplish a degree with a disability. Removing those barriers is possible.’’
He meets daily with students and reviews documentation regarding their disability diagnosis. Individual Education Plans (IEP) aren’t used in colleges, but Rosario said he deploys them as a starting point to address students’ needs.
“Colleges can’t modify curricula like high schools can so I make sure that students know the technical standards and skills demanded of them,’’ he said. “The goal in college is to level the playing field, not to segregate individuals because of disabilities.’’
Rossi-D’entremont said Rosario has been an asset because of his knowledge of assessing mental health conditions among students with disabilities, which she said is an increasing challenge at RIC.
Some students aren’t aware of the depth of their disabilities because typically parents have handled their affairs through the primary and secondary school years, Rosario said.
“So we have to work sort of backwards to evaluate them, and that can be a process that takes months,’’ he said.
Additionally, Rossi-D’entremont said disability services has established a relationship with RIC’s school psychology faculty to have practicum students (under the supervision of licensed practitioners) evaluate students who suspect they have learning disabilities.
“However, most evaluations are referred out to communities where students live,’’ she said.
Rossi-D’entremont also noted that her office is open to increasing training about disability concerns for faculty and staff.
“I think we could be doing more across campus. To date, we’ve provided training by invitation to individual department meetings,’’ she said. “We can tailor the training to be in-depth or succinct. We also provide one-on-one consultations with faculty members who may have a particular student or situation they want to discuss.’’
Cano Morales’ division has been addressing disability services from another angle. RIC’s Director of Institutional Equity Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta ’85, who also serves as the college’s affirmative action officer, has been working closely with Rossi-D’entremont to include more candidates with disabilities within the college’s searches for faculty and staff. Lynch-Gadaleta is the college’s first affirmative action officer in eight years.
“I meet with each search committee to discuss primarily how to increase the diversity of faculty and staff to better reflect the demographics of the student population,’’ Lynch-Gadaleta said. “Keri has been a tremendous resource for me, as I hope I have been for her.
As Title IX coordinator, Lynch-Gadaleta said she has reviewed procedures to maintain best practices and reached out to campus stakeholders through workshops. Title IX is a federal civil rights law, established in 1972, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities.
“I trained 300 students last week and will conduct training sessions for athletic coaches, residential life and campus security later this month,’’ she said. “I have also been trying to recruit members of the campus community to be Title IX investigators/advisors to assure we have resources for all parties that go through the process.’’
Ultimately, Cano Morales said such training should be carried out in a spirit of mindfulness.
“We should be mindful of RIC’s diversity and empathetic and educated about what we don’t know,’’ she said. “It’s our job to offer training, research and models of innovation so everybody is well equipped to be welcoming on this campus.’’