New York University

Posted on March 1, 2011

Accommodating Students with Disabilities in a Global Network

Since 1981, the Newcombe Foundation has provided scholarship funding for students with disabilities at NYU. Among the first institutions funded by the Foundation, NYU continues to provide necessary services to students with disabilities at their main campus in downtown Manhattan, and has expanded its commitment to those students studying abroad at international sites. The Newcombe Foundation celebrates its longstanding relationship with NYU and shared commitment to serving the needs of its students with disabilities, both in New York and around the globe.

The mission of the Henry and Lucy Moses Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) includes the facilitation of equal access to programs and services for students with disabilities throughout the schools and divisions of New York University (NYU). This territory, however, cannot be described through the traditional campus definition. NYU has established ten international study centers on six continents. These centers are extensions of NYU’s curriculum and programs and offer exciting opportunities to students from NYU and other United States-based universities to enhance their education through international experiences. In September 2010, NYU opened NYU Abu Dhabi, the first comprehensive liberal arts and science campus to be operated abroad by a major American research university.

Students in Washington Square Park
Students in Washington Square Park

This global focus dramatically changes the scope of higher education disability services at NYU. Providing accommodations and access in countries outside the United States can be very challenging. While U.S. laws cover international educational programs based in the United States, U.S. laws do not govern foreign nationals enrolled at international sites. A global program must follow the laws (including those related to disability) of its host country. However, given that the international study centers are extensions of NYU, CSD is required to provide accommodations based on U.S. disability law. Although this sounds tricky, it ultimately means that NYU must make very strong efforts to address a plethora of special needs, including academic accommodations, physical access, and housing, for all global areas of study. The CSD staff often relies on targeted research and a little creativity to implement accommodations ranging from smaller proctored testing environments to securing sign language interpreters.

CSD is fortunate to have partnered with the NYU Office of Global Programs to develop a network of liaisons who assist with the implementation of accommodations for students who are studying abroad. CSD staff members work on effective, consistent communication and education of the liaisons, as well as the greater NYU community, regarding the legal standards for accommodating students with disabilities and awareness of CSD programs and services. These partnerships have resulted in an increased number of students with disabilities studying abroad each year, including students who use wheelchairs.

While studying abroad can be challenging for any student, the added component of disability can bring additional, unique challenges. A key ingredient to success is maintaining each student’s connection to either his/her home campus and/or other students who share similar disability-related challenges. For example, students with AD/HD often request the opportunity to meet with other students on their home campus with the same diagnosis to “network” by sharing strategies that assist them with their learning. The absence of this opportunity for students studying abroad, coupled with the fact that they do not have regular access to the resources available at a home campus, led to the birth of CSD’s latest project. In conjunction with the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS), CSD has launched the NYU Global AD/HD Networking Group. This program has been designed to meet the needs of students who have AD/HD and are studying abroad at an NYU global site/school. The goal is to decrease potential isolation by building a cohesive global community of students who share both a diagnosis of AD/HD and a desire to increase their effectiveness as students.

While some disability offices in higher education primarily function from a compliance perspective, CSD is excited to implement a development and learning model of operation. The future of NYU is focused on increased globalization and internationalization, so technology will continue to play a large role in educating and connecting students. Through the use of Epsilen and Wimba technologies, CSD and SCPS have created a synchronous and asynchronous learning environment for students diagnosed with AD/HD at each of the ten international study centers (Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, Ghana, London, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Shanghai, and Tel Aviv) and the Abu Dhabi campus. Some of these host nations do not recognize the AD/HD diagnosis and therefore do not offer support services. Michelle Witman, the CSD Learning Specialist Consultant, has created a curriculum of strategy-based lessons to be taught monthly via Wimba’s live on-line classroom. Students who register for the group will log on once a month at a predetermined time and engage in a synchronous lesson. During each session, there will be ample time for students to provide feedback, offer suggestions and problem-solve as a group as well as follow up one-on-one with Michelle. Students will also have the opportunity to connect asynchronously via discussion threads, e-mails and blog posts.

NYU’s commitment to the inclusion of students with disabilities in all programs of study offers CSD endless opportunity to create innovative programs such as the Global AD/HD Networking Group. By redefining the college campus, NYU has challenged its community to redefine themselves and think outside the box. It just so happens that NYU’s box spans six continents.

For further information about NYU’s services for students with disabilities, please visit the web site.