By Students, for Students

The information in this section was put together with the hard work of several students who were members of the Student Advisory Committee while they attended Bryn Mawr and by some alums of the College. These individuals wanted to offer new students additional information that they wished they would have known when they first entered college. 

Advocating for Yourself 

College may be the first time that you find yourself advocating for your needs without the guidance and counsel of others. Access Services and professors want to help, and your input is important in determining how best to do so. It is important to speak up for yourself and ask clarifying questions. In this section, we hope to provide you with some advice for advocating for yourself in these conversations.  

You need to know what you want in order to ask for it. If you have had accommodations in the past, consider those accommodations and what barrier they removed for you. College can be a different environment. Knowing how an accommodation helped in the past will help you to decide what accommodations to request now. If you are new to college, it may help to gain some context by reaching out to current students, a trusted faculty member, your dean, or Access Services. By talking with these individuals, you can gain insight into how college may differ from your previous experiences.  

Even when you know what you want, finding the words to express your needs to new people can be a whole new challenge. If you have never had accommodations before, it may be hard to figure out where to start. You may end up concerned that you misrepresented yourself, but that is okay. Mistakes happen and it is okay to go back and clarify what you meant. You are in a new environment; know that it is normal and important to ask clarifying questions whenever you do not understand something.  

It may feel hard to set boundaries, while also approaching a conversation collaboratively. It is hard to set boundaries and make requests in a way that allows you to maintain a positive relationship. Keep in mind that kindness can go a long way in this process. 

We would like to recommend a few resources as a starting point for understanding disability rights advocacy.  Understanding what is covered by the ADA and Section 504 can help you as you complete this process. Judith Huemann provides some insight into the questions “What does it mean to ask for something that hasn’t been asked for before?” in her TED Talk, Our Fight for Disability Rights. We also highly recommend reading Staring: How We Look by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, available at Canaday Library and online through tripod.brynmawr.edu

Advocating within the Accommodations Process 

It is important to understand the process for determining eligibility for accommodations. Access Services is here to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to the College’s programs, services, and facilities. Advocating for student needs across the college may include working with Facilities to remove a physical barrier, clarifying expectations with professors, partnering with the Pensby Center to discuss disability as a form of diversity, and more. Determining eligibility for accommodations is just one part of Access Services’ work.  Once an accommodation has been established, Access Services will work with a student to ensure relevant departments and offices of the College implement and uphold the expectations. 

If an accommodation established by Access Services is not implemented, you need to let Access Services know right away. If you feel that Access Services has not agreed to accommodations for which you are eligible, request a meeting with Access Services to learn why your request was denied. In the meeting, ask questions about their decision-making considerations. Be prepared to engage in a conversation about how the system works and what your needs are, and how your challenges meet the ADA definition of a “substantial limitation of a major life activity.” Students can appeal a decision made by the Director of Access Services with the Dean of the Undergraduate College. If you believe that a problem is not being addressed appropriately by either of these entities, you can file a complaint with Bryn Mawr’s Equal Opportunity Officer. The EOO is a staff member who addresses issues raised regarding discrimination. The current EOO can be contacted at eoo@brynmawr.edu

Advocating with Professors 

Many students are eligible for academic accommodations through Access Services during their time at Bryn Mawr. Before a student's accommodations can be implemented in the classroom, the student must first meet with their professor and notify them of the proposed accommodations by sharing their Verification Form. A professor who has been presented with the Verification Form must implement accommodations as stated on the form. When meeting with a professor about your accommodations, you are never required to disclose your disability. Instead, it is helpful to come to these meetings and share your strengths and needs as a learner and discuss the implementation of the accommodations. 

Specific Tips: Preparing for Discussions 

When holding a meeting where you have a specific goal, there are several things you can do to ensure that you get your point across clearly. Try implementing these tips when you have a meeting that involves advocating for yourself: 

  • Go into the meeting with an outline of what you want to talk about. This ensures that you get across your point. 

    • In addition to an outline, it can be helpful to write down/record things ahead of time. Sometimes students get nervous when communicating their needs, so having something to refer to may ease your worries of forgetting something. For example, write down what support you need, your history, and/or your experiences. 

  • Practice using specific language: 

    • X is not possible for Y reason. 

    • X is not acceptable for Y reason. 

    • I am incapable of X for Y reason. 

    • I cannot achieve X because of Y reason. 

    • X is impossible for me to achieve because of Y reason. 

    • Note that Y reason is not “it is hard”. It might be hard but that will not make your situation clear to your audience. Be specific. 

      • Example: A student met with Access Services about getting an accommodation for spelling due to dyslexia. In the meeting, they said that their professor was going to take points off for misspelled words in a quiz. They said that no matter how much they studied or how well they knew the terms, it was not possible for them to spell every word correctly, because their dyslexia caused a significant limitation in spelling. If the student had only told Access Services that they had to work hard to spell, it would not have communicated the same message. 

  • Present the issue as a fact 

    • If you have numbers or statistics (i.e., from an evaluation you’ve had), bring those to your meeting. Statistics or other peer-reviewed scientific research can be useful supporting evidence in your discussion. 

    • In one example, a student had many reasons and clearly stated why something was a significant limitation for them. The educational impact of their symptoms was clearly defined - impartially - when they were able to show that they performed in the 5th percentile, related to their peers. 

  •  Have multiple reasons why you need X. 

    • If someone says no, do not get discouraged. You will have other reasons lined up.

  • Sometimes it is hard for people to focus so much on themselves. Consider what it is like to have a meeting all about yourself and your needs. 

    • One trick is to pretend that you are speaking for the community: 

      • You are not the only one. As much as the situation might lead you to think you are the only one with the disability you have or the accommodation you need, you are not the only one. 

      • This approach will help give you a sense of purpose that is otherwise hard to achieve when focusing so much on yourself. 

  • Remind yourself that you are probably not the only person who has requested the accommodation you are discussing.  Others before you have asked, others in the future will too. 

  • If you are nervous, practice going through the meeting with a trusted friend or practice the conversation in front of a mirror.  

  •  Do whatever you can before the meeting to boost your confidence. 

    • Listen to some music. 

    • Go over your outline for the meeting. 

  • Be kind. Understand that there are laws and organizational policy that dictate many of these decisions. Be firm about what you need but be courteous even if it is hard. 

Caring for Yourself: Reflections on Mental Health 

The accommodations process can sometimes be a deeply personal conversation. It may be your first time advocating for your needs on your own. It is important to take some time to reflect on how to care for yourself. 

First and foremost: Do not lose sight of your strengths! With so much focus on demonstrating your limitations, it is important to remind yourself of your many strengths. 

It can help to seek counseling before, during, and after requesting accommodations. For example, it can be empowering to understand and know how to speak about your various symptoms and how they impact you. Counseling can also be a safe space to gain advocacy skills, as therapists are skilled in the art of communication and can offer support and advice as well as teach skills. Students may find counseling to be useful regardless of the outcome of your request because it provides the opportunity to reflect on your needs. Bryn Mawr students are eligible for 10 free sessions at the Health and Wellness Center. If you are on the Bryn Mawr insurance plan, the cost of additional counseling sessions is covered after you submit a claim form. Additionally, the Bryn Mawr health insurance policy usually includes free telehealth counseling. Information for this can be found on the Health and Wellness Center’s website. 

There are a variety of other places on campus where students can get support. The Health and Wellness Center hosts group sessions on topical issues, including disability. Dorm Leadership Team (DLT) members, especially Community Diversity Assistants and Peer Mentors, are trained to help students. Feel free to reach out to them, and they can provide you with resources, emotional support, and more. Additionally, the student club, EnAble, hosts regular meetings for students with disabilities and their allies. 

Affording Documentation/Testing 

In some cases, you may be asked to provide documentation/testing to support your diagnosis and explain your limitations and whether those limitations rise to the level of being seen as a disability under the ADA. If you do not already have such testing, and/or it is older than five years, it can be very expensive to accomplish. First, check to see if you need it. If you do, Access Services has a list of possible testing facilities that charge lower fees and/or may accept the College’s health insurance. You also want to be clear about the type of testing that you need. Again, Access Services can be a resource for you to figure this out.  If you decide to pursue an evaluation, make sure the individual/agency you use is acceptable and will provide not just a diagnosis, but an evaluation of how your symptoms impact your learning. Checklists alone cannot generally provide this information.  

Some local universities offer lower-cost options for testing. They offer testing at a reduced cost because they often employ graduate students in their testing centers. Although the initial cost is lower, these institutions typically do not accept insurance. You may be able to be at least partially reimbursed if you submit your bills to your insurance company. But be sure to check this in advance of engaging in the testing! 

Here are some things we’ve learned about testing and insurance companies. However, you should always check with your own insurance company and learn how they operate; what is below may or may not be true in your situation: 

  • A basic rundown of health insurance: It is common for health insurance plans to cover approximately 80% of a medical bill for an in-network provider. The rest of the cost, as well as the co-pay, is up to you. 

  • If you have health insurance in addition to the health insurance provided by Bryn Mawr, you can charge an incidence of health care to both insurance companies. The companies will negotiate who pays what, but the bottom line is that your cost will probably be less. 

  • Some testing facilities are not covered by the Bryn Mawr health insurance, although this does change year-to-year. Be advised that the Bryn Mawr health insurance is typically not applicable over the summer. For these reasons, it is good to explore any other health insurance you may have. 

  • You can inquire with your health insurance to figure out if they will cover a visit but do this before you go to the visit.

  • Costs for out-of-network providers can often be higher than those of in-network providers, so it is worthwhile to take the time to identify in-network providers. You can determine if a facility/doctor is in-network or out-of-network (i.e., whether your insurance will pay a portion of the cost) before making an appointment. Go to your health insurance’s website and search for a doctor/clinic in a search function titled something like “Cost Finder,” “In-Network Doctors,” “Estimate Cost,” or “Find a Medical Provider.” If having trouble, call your health insurance customer service at the number on your health insurance card. 

  • If you’re curious how to figure out if your health insurance will cover a specific test, it is best to call your health insurance and inquire about a “psychoeducational evaluation.” Most testing for learning disabilities, ADHD and some psychological disabilities (e.g., anxiety) fall into this category. 

  • If you are not sure how insurance will work, don’t be afraid to ask the receptionist or doctor/nurse/counselor/other medical provider about it. But do this before you begin the testing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

How long does it typically take to get an accommodation? 

This can vary greatly depending on an individual’s situation. In some cases, the total process from initial contact with Access Services to the implementation of the accommodation can take as little as one week or even one day. In other cases, particularly if you have never had accommodations before, it can take several weeks. If you are curious how this may play out for your scenario, it is best to speak to Access Services.    

One of the biggest barriers to getting an accommodation quickly can be providing documentation that supports your eligibility. Many testing facilities are booked for months in advance. To prepare for this scenario, be sure to get in touch with Access Services as soon as possible to discuss what options, if any, may be available while you are waiting for a testing date. 

What do I do if I notice a part of campus is inaccessible? 

If you have noticed a physical barrier, it is best to contact Facilities. Facilities welcomes feedback on their Service Request Form located on the website; however you can also get in touch with them by email (facilities@brynmawr.edu) or by phone (610-526-7930). For more info on reporting a problem to facilities, please reference the “Additional Resources for Accessibility Support On-Campus” document, located on the Access Services webpage. 

If you have noticed a barrier in one of your courses, there are many things you can do. As a first step, mention the barrier to your professor to make sure they are aware of the problem and any possible solutions you have considered. If you two are having trouble establishing a solution, contact your dean or the Chair of the Department to discuss the issue. Additionally, if you are eligible for an accommodation that is not being implemented, it is extremely important that you notify Access Services. 

If you have noticed a barrier with a student-run club that has been unwilling to resolve the barrier, reach out to Student Activities. As a part of the funding structure, all clubs are expected to abide by the “Accessibility Policy for Bryn Mawr College Events” (located on the Student Activities webpage for Policies and Forms https://www.brynmawr.edu/activities/policies-and-forms#accessibilitypolicy). If a club is refusing to abide by this policy, Student Activities will appreciate being made aware and will take action to resolve the problem.  Remember that you are not asking for something special, you are requesting that they follow the rules put in place by the College. Additionally, keep in mind that most people when acting in the wrong do not realize that they are in the wrong. Speaking up so that they can correct their mistake may be uncomfortable but will be ultimately beneficial for yourself and others. 

If you have noticed another type of barrier and are unsure of who can resolve the issue, try asking around. Inform any departments or offices who fund the thing that is broken or anyone who frequently uses it. If all else fails, mention it to the Dean of the Undergraduate College. 

Final Words 

We hope this page provides you with helpful resources and information as you work with Access Services and other departments at the College. 

We also hope that this document is a reminder of the many students and systems that are here to support you. Access is not and should not only be the responsibility of one office. There are various ways that other departments can support you.  

There are many groups at Bryn Mawr that wish to be here for you, when you feel the need for support. Our community is a work in progress. We hope that you will play a role in growing our disability community so that all individuals, departments, and programs are informed about – and contribute to – making Bryn Mawr all that it can be. 

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Contact Us

Access Services

Access Services
Eugenia Chase Guild Hall, Room 103
101 N. Merion Ave.
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 19010
Fax: 610-526-7451

Deb Alder, Director of Access Services
dalder@brynmawr.edu
Phone: 610-526-7516
Office Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday

Grace Cipressi, Assistive Technology Specialist
gcipressi@brynmawr.edu
Phone: 610-526-5470
Office Hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday