“We have Livescribe pens — I took one of these out to show you because they’re so cool,” said Patricia Fleming, director of Baruch College’s Disability Services, in her second floor office of the Newman Vertical Campus.
She pulled out the pen and pad from the case and demonstrated how it worked: the pen is a recording device that syncs up with its matching notebook. As a student takes notes in class, the pen records the professor. If the student gets distracted or cannot keep up with the professor, the student can leave a space in their notes and continue onward. When the student gets home, Fleming explained excitedly, the student does not have to listen to the entire recording — the student can just touch the page in question with the pen, and the pen will skip to that portion of the recording.
This is Fleming and this is Baruch College’s Disability Services: always happy to assist students in need. Across the 24 CUNY campuses, there are 11,000 students with disabilities. Fleming said that she and her staff service the 415 students with disabilities who are registered at Baruch.
The Livescribe pen is only one example of what Disability Services offers to students.
Other services include lending out other assistive technology items like laptops, facilitating special academic accommodations and providing a specialized career counselor through the CUNY LEADS program.
Students with disabilities can take exams in the Disability Services office and there is a computer lab available for students who need assistive technologies.
Shneur Silverstein, a student who utilizes Baruch’s Disability Services office, said that the office has “been super helpful” to him, accommodating him sufficiently.
While he experienced some issues at Baruch, such as some professors being stricter than others, he felt that most [professors] were “pretty understanding” about his needs and were able to accommodate him.
He admitted to being frustrated by advisement, saying that counselors often do not know the curriculum of classes and often cannot advise him on which ones to take based on the needs of his disability.
However, Silverstein also said that although Baruch’s Disability Services was a useful tool, more education on its services was needed, as many students do not understand its full scope.
“I think that CUNY does a very good job … SUNY is not where we are, a lot of private schools [too],” said Fleming. However, she added that she would like to see more proactive thinking when it comes to implementing changes within the CUNY system.
The example Fleming gave was the debut of the Excelsior Scholarship earlier this year. Fleming was assured that students with disabilities would not be discriminated against, and that these students would not be denied the scholarship because of any semesters they had taken off from school because of their disabilities.
However, there were no systems in place to accommodate these students.
Fleming described an instance in which a Baruch student approached her to tell her that while they had initially been accepted for the scholarship, they were later denied due to a semester missed from school.
Fleming made some calls and resolved the issue for the student, but wished the process
“I think that’s a lot of steps to go through for a student,” said
While it was not a complaint against CUNY, continued Fleming, she would like CUNY to “really look first” at the needs of students with disabilities before it enacts any new program or policy.
As for students on campus who would like to be allies to students with disabilities, Fleming responded, “You don’t have to be a person with disabilities to be an advocate.”
“The minute someone on campus hears the student has a disability the student gets sent to my office,” said Fleming. “Just because a student has a disability doesn’t mean they should be siphoned into the disability office — that’s segregation and it’s against the law.”
There are other resources that students with and without disabilities can reach out to in order to advocate for students with
A major disability advocate in CUNY is the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities, an alliance of different disability clubs and organizations in CUNY that work to support one another and lobby the government so that CUNY can continue to serve students with disabilities.
Founded in 1989 at the CUNY Graduate Center, CCSD allows both students with and without disabilities to join.
“I would like to see CUNY continue to be a leading vehicle for the upward mobility for students with disabilities,” said Bryan Wigfall, the chairperson of CCSD and a political science major at CCNY.
During the CUNY Board of Trustees hearing on Oct. 16, Wigfall testified to urge the board to improve academic policy for students with disabilities, namely by requiring all professors to add a disability statement to all syllabi that would name disability services on campus and guarantee accommodations.
A former CCSD chair also testified at the hearing, advocating for more funding from the state for CUNY students with disabilities.
Wigfall advocates for students without disabilities to join CCSD alongside students who do
“[Students] can be [allies] by agreeing to meet with students with disabilities, form partnerships and beginning to work with them to create a plan, and campaign to create awareness about the needs of students with disabilities, as well as to be able to ensure that there is equal access to resources and opportunities and facilities,”
“I think if you’re a social justice advocate, you will be, automatically, a disability advocate,” said Fleming. Though there is always more to be done, Baruch’s Disability Services is, for now, doing all that it can to be an advocate.