Access, equity, and inclusion are essential to the liberal arts

Wheaton is committed, as a community, to ensuring equitable access to programs and academic services, and to supporting every student in reaching their full learning potential.

By Jerimiah Bergstrom, Director of Accessibility Services

I feel it only appropriate that I begin here in the same way I’ve started many emails over the past semester — Hi! I’m Jerimiah Bergstrom, the new Director of Accessibility Services here at Wheaton. I’d be more than happy to talk through the supports we have available. 

One of my favorite aspects of working in Accessibility Services is The Interactive Process (it isn’t normally capitalized, but it should be). The term “the interactive process” is usually used to describe the moment when a student speaks with an accessibility representative in the effort to provide a personal account of their experience as additional documentation in the effort to establish supports. I enjoy this process because it allows me to get to know the actual person in front of me and hear their real needs. These moments should be seen as opportunities to complexify people beyond their diagnoses, to acknowledge the infinitely uncounted paths that can bring a body to the present, and to help them navigate the moment — because help is the end goal.

Some background about me: I come from Lesley University in Cambridge, where I was part of the LD/ADD Academic Support Program. The LD/ADD Program is a specialized line of supports, specifically geared towards students diagnosed with learning differences, such as ADHD, Dyslexia, and ASD. I learned through this role to embrace the “social model” of disability — that disability does not exist in a vacuum, but rather at the intersection of a person’s body and their environment. It is when an environment provides a barrier to a body where disability arises. 

For example, compare a person with celiac disease going to a restaurant with a gluten-free menu option versus going to a completely gluten-free restaurant. In the former, the gluten-free menu option would be the restaurant’s attempt at accommodating a disability, whereas in the latter restaurant, there would be a higher likelihood that a person diagnosed with celiac disease would not experience it as a disability at all. While it is ever our goal to strive to create such universally designed environments, it is also a reality that many of the environments we currently have to live in are not set up in such a way. On college campuses, Accessibility Services is there to address this discrepancy.

To this end, since taking on the role of director in mid-September, I’ve hoped to contribute to this ideal by working to expand the accessibility services offered here at Wheaton. We’ve brought in some new assistive technology, and expanded our current assistive technology to aid students in a variety of academic tasks, including reading comprehension and note-taking. The accommodated testing center is now up and running, and available as an option for taking accommodated exams. 

Most exciting, however, is the addition of our new Accessibility Specialist, Frannie Palmer ’17, who joined us just after Thanksgiving break. Among supporting other functional aspects of Accessibility Services – such as exams and notetaking — Frannie’s role is to work one-on-one with students who work with Accessibility Services, providing guidance around time management, organization, productivity — all of the skills students need to “college” effectively outside the classroom. My time in the LD Program taught me that such executive functioning supports are equally important to success as content knowledge, and I’m deeply excited we can bring this support to Wheaton as well.

Of course, my hope is to not stop here for expanding supports here at Wheaton. As mentioned earlier, one of my favorite aspects of working in Accessibility Services is the interactive process — this means that in my five short months as director, I’ve already had the delightful opportunity to meet so many individuals across campus and work with them to support their unique needs. This makes me doubly excited for the future, where we’ll have countless more opportunities to engage, listen, and help. Here’s to the spring semester!