ASU's newly named accessibility center is primed to serve students

Monday, August 17, 2020

Arizona State University’s Disability Resource Center recently announced that it has changed its name to Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services. 

In alignment with ASU’s Charter to be “measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed,” the new title represents the office’s mission of ensuring that every program, service, event and experience at the university is fully accessible and inclusive to all students, not just those who identify as having a disability.

“The name reflects the importance of creating a culture of accessibility and inclusion; a culture that is fundamental to the educational experience,” said Lance Harrop, dean of students for ASU’s Polytechnic campus and executive director of Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services. 

“It is also important in that it includes those who may qualify as having a disability, as defined by law, but perhaps do not identify in that way,” Harrop said. “A student’s experience in how they identify with and view disability is very personal and important. The new name is an acknowledgment of that experience.”

The name reflects SAILS’ vision for its future as it continue to serve a growing and ever-changing Sun Devil community, where the number of students with disabilities continues to increase and the impact of those disabilities present in varied ways, according to Harrop.

“Given our commitment to providing all students with a world-class education, SAILS will ensure that the entire ASU community will have access to the resources, expertise, training, consultation and facilitation of accessibility needed to ensure that the ASU experience will be fully accessible from design to implementation,” Harrop said.

SAILS will also continue to be a resource and support for faculty and staff, who are critical partners in ensuring their courses are designed and implemented in a way that allows for full participation without barriers.

ASU’s legacy of serving students in this way began in the mid-1970s when the office was originally established as Special Services for Disabled Students. The focus at the time was providing physical access to the university for the increasing number of returning veterans. 

Over the years, its name and focus have shifted to become more forward-thinking about the design of space and how best to meet students’ needs in and out of the classroom. 

Today, SAILS has offices on all four ASU campuses and offers a range of accommodations that provide students with equal access to academic and university services. These include test-taking, alternate formats, communication access, notetaking services and more. 

Students who register with SAILS work with disability access consultants who assess their needs and assist them with arrangements for their classes, housing and other university services and activities.

Chellis Hall and his partner, Kiley

SAILS also offers community trainings to increase institutional awareness and support. Lunch and Learns are offered for faculty and staff to learn how best to serve students with disabilities. AccessZone is an in-depth, interactive training offered to the Sun Devil community that covers the history of disability and laws that impact those in higher education. It also introduces the concept of universal design, which calls for designed environments to be accessible by all people regardless of age, size or ability.

Chellis Hall, a Master of Social Work student, utilizes Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services for things like taking exams and communicating with professors about accessibility services for his classes. He also works there as a testing proctor. Hall says that SAILS has provided him with “many opportunities and created educational experiences that (he) would not have had without it.”

He likes that the office’s new name promotes the inclusive culture that ASU strives for and feels it’s more effective in informing the community about SAILS’ purpose and offerings. 

“I am differently abled and just because I learn and do things differently does not mean I am 'disabled,'" Hall said. “I appreciate the university taking into consideration how the name of something can and does affect students.”

Chloe Breger, who graduated from ASU in 2020 with a degree in biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology and behavior) and is now pursuing a Master of Education at ASU, utilized SAILS services during her time as an undergraduate. She said without them, her trajectory would have been very different.

ASU Grad

Chloe Breger

“The name impacts the Sun Devil community because it shows how we include people within our community no matter how they learn or no matter what support they might need,” Breger said.

As SAILS moves forward with this new chapter in its history, Harrop says it will continue to serve students, educate and inform the campus community, raise awareness regarding accessibility opportunities, and increase connections with campus and community partners in providing support and resources to students. It will also continue its critical role in supporting ASU faculty and staff, and serve as a resource for all within the ASU community.

“ASU students are positively changing and influencing the world in amazing and important ways,” Harrop said. “We look forward to continuing to play a part in that experience by ensuring all students, including and especially students with disabilities, have the opportunity to be successful.”

Visit the SAILS website to learn more or visit its ASU Foundation page to support the important work it does for the Sun Devil community.