How Abled Are You For Registration Week?

Students signing up for interviews in Bates. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor '17

Students signing up for interviews in Bates. Photo credit: Andrea Cantor '17

Registration week is notorious for its chaos. For many students, it can be a daunting process - a week of running around campus in the late summer heat, wandering through confusing buildings in search of offices, and eventually waiting in a never-ending line at the library wondering if you will have to spend your Saturday repeating the whole ordeal. Yet for students with disabilities, registration week can be nearly impossible. 

The obvious reason why registration week is inaccessible for disabled students is the topographical reality of the campus’s layout. Bates hill is not something that can be easily altered, and it presents a challenge for those with visible or invisible mobile disabilities. 

Dean of Disabilities Polly Waldman helps tackle the geographical obstacle by accommodating students with mobility impairments with medical transport, interviews via phone or email, or arranging an accessible location for the student and professor to meet. Dean Waldman advises those with questions to look on MySLC under disability services for more information. 

To the credit of Sarah Lawrence, the school has allocated funds for accessible renovations to pre-existing buildings to meet ADA standards. But the buildings, even with renovations, still have consistent issues for those with disabilities. 

Economics professor Kim Christensen described her personal experiences with Science Center elevators during registration week: “My office is on the third floor of the science building and I can't climb stairs. During registration, the elevator is used very frequently and often breaks down. Directing able-bodied people to the stairs (and making the elevator more robust!) would be a great help.” During this year’s registration, the elevators in both Bates and the New Dorms were also out of service. 
But it is not only students with mobility issues - or, more specifically, visible mobility issues - that need accommodations during registration week. Those with invisible issues, including but not limited to, cognitive and psychological disabilities and autoimmune illnesses, could potentially require accommodations as well. Lily Ginsburg (’19) explained that her ADHD disability made her first year of registration particularly difficult. 

“As a person with ADHD, registration week is extremely difficult and confusing,” she said. “I just did not feel like the tasks set out to me were done so in manageable or well explained ways.” 

The description of disability services for registration on MySLC does state that “any student who has a disability and requires accommodations” should speak with Dean Waldman. But unfortunately, “any” typically translates to mainstream society as those with physical and visible disabilities. Moreover, those with invisible disabilities may similarly read the clause, believing that while they may be entitled to accommodations in the classroom, it is not the case for registration week. 

Recognizing the need and right for an accommodation is also complicated by the fact that one needs documentation from an individual in the medical field. As Bobby Marcus (’18) explained, disability documentation can be hard to acquire: “Documentation is complicated because a majority of the disabled student population does not have all of their disabilities documented. They may have one or two, but getting a diagnosis is […] time consuming, not to mention the money needed.” 

As of now, the system, while it may maintain accommodations, is still ableist. Those with disabilities must bend and work with a system that is not designed for them. Going forward, Marcus hopes that the system can evolve so that it can already encompass the needs of both the abled and non-abled bodies. 

“I believe that if the final part of registration, the actual signing up, was made online, it would drastically make signing up so much easier for everyone.” Professor Christensen agrees with an online option, saying, “It would also be more convenient for faculty to have online sign-up, as a student who decides against an interview could cancel it online, freeing up more time for faculty to conduct other interviews (or to take a break!)” 

Others who oppose these options argue that an online format of registration may not only be more disorganized in practice than the current system, but also defeat the spirit of registration, which many uphold as a rite of passage. 

Incorporating online resources into the registration period has been an area that Sarah Lawrence has been working on. This past summer, the MySLC Web Service team launched a Registration Map, so that students can digitally see where buildings and offices are located. This could be a real asset in minimizing the time that students look for offices as well as better organizing the process. 

Ginsburg, a sophomore, optimistically explained that going into her second year and understanding the campus layout, may help her during registration week: “I didn't know where to go or what to do and the whole thing ended up being a disorganized mess. But now I know the campus so maybe it will be better.” 

If successful, the Registration Map could make is so that other incoming first years do not have to go through the trials of aimlessly scrambling around campus in the oppressive heat as Ginsburg and others experienced in past years. 

While the comprehensive school map, if indeed used by individuals, will be an improvement for both able-bodied and non-able-bodied students, it is by no means the end of the changes needed to registration. 

Disability Alliance co-chair Emma Graydon (’17) said going online completely has also presented challenges, since the school did not print out any physical copies of the interview schedule this year. Although it is praiseworthy that the school chose a more eco-friendly recourse, a few physical copies would have been beneficial for those with attention disorders or disabilities that disrupt organization. 

“Every registration I feel like I'm at a disadvantage and struggle to keep up with other students in terms of getting to interview for the classes I'm most interested in taking. I simply can't process information as fast as someone without my disabilities,” Graydon explained. 

For all of its problems, registration week remains a valued process that makes Sarah Lawrence unique compared to other institutions. Students have the opportunity to ensure that their tuition dollars are placed into courses that they are not only interested in, but also teachers that they connect with. 

Yet the disorganization of registration week is a poor reflection of the institution’s platform of inclusion. Possibly online options or perhaps a rearrangement of the pre-existing process are the future of registration week. For example, registration could be done on the North or South Lawn and run similarly to the club fair structure, where students meet with teachers at designated tables. Professor Christensen suggests putting the accommodation information into the registration packets so that students are more aware of their options. 

Whatever recourse Sarah Lawrence’s administration deems best for the school’s trajectory, a decision must be made. Registration week for those with disabilities has been overlooked for too long. 

Andrea Cantor '17