Check out the Word file of our Spring 2018 newsletter. It includes articles about changes to our note taking accommodations, a review of the Livescribe 3 smartpen, discussion from the panel we hosted of students and faculty talking about “The Moment of Disclosure,” and more.

by Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman, Assistant Director of Disability Resources

Disability Resources held its first Welcome Event for new students the Friday before the Fall 2018 semester. The event was an opportunity for incoming first year and transfer students to meet each other and several returning students affiliated with the office. After a catered lunch, new students had the chance to learn about and discuss different models of disability, role-play meeting with a professor to discuss accommodations, visit our office locations, and learn about resources they could find useful. If you are returning to campus in August and would like to participate in the event, please let us know. Incoming students told us that meeting each other and the returning students was the best part of the event!

By Christina Papaleo, Staff Assistant to the Chief Diversity Officer

In her TED talk, “When we design for disability, we all benefit,” Elise Roy emphasizes the importance of “design thinking” as a way to creatively and intentionally shift our mindset in how we perceive accommodating disability. Instead of it being a specialized practice, Roy encourages considering principles of universal design which is “a framework for the design of living and working spaces and products benefiting the widest possible range of people in the widest range of situations without special or separate design.” There are several principles, including “1.) Equitable use, 2.) Flexibility in Use, 3.) Simple and Intuitive Use, 4.) Perceptible Information, 5.) Tolerance for Error, 6.) Low Physical Effort, 7.) Size and Space for Approach and Use.”

As an institution, we too can design for disability. Although accessibility is an ongoing process and sometimes may not come as easily due to existing infrastructures, there are programmatic barriers we can remove. Here are a few suggestions to incorporate Universal Design into campus events and programs:

  • Host programs in an accessible location with minimal barriers (i.e. first floor spaces in campus buildings, outside main entrances weather permitting, conducting mobile programming)
  • Clearly indicate allergens and gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, or other options. If ordering from an outside vendor, consider communicating with them to label food items with allergens. If purchasing food from a grocery store, lean towards pre-packaged foods that are clearly labeled with allergens and dietary needs.
    • *Note of language use: Using the phrase “dietary needs” instead of “dietary restrictions” conveys a more positive message that a particular dietary lifestyle provides accessibility rather than restriction*
  • If your program includes an activity, provide multiple methods for participants to engage in the activity. This also accommodates different styles of learning (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.)
  • Consider multiple ways of presenting content:
    • Utilizing social media (i.e. Facebook Live, Instagram Live) and/or smart device apps
    • Zoom (a video conferencing site) provides accessibility options and can be used for students who are unable to physically access your event/program
    • Showing video clips from YouTube (they have an option to include closed captioning)
    • Providing printed materials of content (consider larger print for those with low vision and always save as a PDF for those who use screen readers)
    • Verbally describe any visual aids, including slides and handouts, used during presentations.

If you have questions regarding accessibility and program planning, please do not hesitate to contact the Disability Resources Office at 607-753-2967.

By Frank Gravano, Graduate Assistant for Disability Resources

This year I am serving on the Student Government Association’s Accessibility & Sustainability Committee. It aims to raise awareness to SGA and all members of campus of the many issues concerning the topics of accessibility and sustainability in campus. Students involved with the committee offer concerns, ideas, and solutions to problems which arise concerning these topics. The committee is dedicated to reviewing campus building situations. A current goal is to improve accessible doors, making sure there is a plan in place for students when certain buildings are under renovation. The Committee also aims to work with ASC to improve their reusable water bottle program and add more water bottle filling stations around campus. Going forward the committee is excited to work along with clubs such as LEAP, SFAAC, and other committees to continue to improve the Cortland campus for everybody. The Disability Resources Office is learning from SGA’s work and collaborating with other offices to improve campus accessibility.

Melissa Rowley standing next to Disability Resources C-17 door sign with her and Sue Sprague listed on it.
Our new Secretary, Melissa Rowley

By Sue Sprague, Director of Disability Resources

Get ready for a change in scenery! Disability Resources is moving around the corner in Van Hoesen Hall. It won’t take long to get used to our new office and location just down the hall and around the corner in room C-17, part of the old UPD suite.

Along with our new office comes our new secretary, Melissa Rowley, an experienced office administrator, leading the way in teaching students and faculty about AccessCortland and assisting one and all with answers to questions and offering support when needed.

As we finish the final touches on our new office space, Melissa and I will be excited to welcome you to stop by and visit. One of the exciting additions to our office will be areas for students to post important messages, share disability pride, and just relax.

Some things won’t change. We will continue our emphasis on sharing information, listening to students living disabilities, and offering support to find resources and solutions. We also will be keeping the same phone number since its change last year: 607-753-2967.

Be ready to see us in Van Hoesen C-17 when you return in August. We will be happy to show you around our new space!

A Special Congratulations to Seniors and Graduates! All the best with your future plans!


By Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman, Assistant Director of Disability Resources

Feedback has been positive on the first semester of AccessCortland, the Disability Resource Office’s new online system for requesting accommodations, scheduling appointments, and releasing access plans to faculty. Students report an appreciation of the ease of disclosing their accommodations to faculty while faculty have noted the system has worked smoothly.

Students on the Disability Resources Advisory Committee like how easy it is to release their access plans. “What would normally take a week or two weeks now just takes a click of a button,” said one upper class student. Additionally, video tutorials have made learning the system quite easy.

Disclosing through AccessCortland is valuable for more than convenience. It can also help students be stronger self-advocates. Last year, DRO hosted a program with students and faculty talking about best practices during “the moment of disclosure” when students identify to faculty that they require accommodations. Students shared that they feel particularly vulnerable during such discussions. Additionally, research indicates that students often back down from asserting their rights when faculty ask relatively innocuous questions during such meetings.  On the other hand, students on the Advisory Committee indicated that AccessCortland helped them feel more comfortable identifying to faculty. They felt better prepared to discuss their accommodations with faculty face-to-face once they’ve already notified them electronically in advance.

While early anecdotal feedback on AccessCortland has been encouraging, we are surveying faculty and students to learn more about how AccessCortland is succeeding and how it can be improved. Please complete the one to three minute survey by visiting AccessCortland and going to the Surveys tab.

By Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman, Assistant Director of Disability Resources

Faculty Senate has been updating syllabus statements in the Faculty Handbook, so we thought it would be a good time to revisit the disability statement. In creating a new statement, we were interested in:

  • Couching the statement in the College’s commitment to its core values of equity and inclusive excellence rather than on the need to comply with federal law;
  • Keeping the statement clear and simple for students;
  • Ensuring that the statement follows the Office of Civil Rights decisions noting that the Disability Resources must determine eligibility and accommodations;
  • Communicating to students who choose to not affiliate with the Disability Resources Office;
  • Empowering faculty who wish to have conversations with students and adapt course design on their own;
  • Putting the focus on addressing barriers in a course that might hinder several students rather than placing a focus on a student’s disability.

We also wanted to ensure that students and faculty were actively involved in shaping the statement, as this is something that will appear on their syllabi for years to come. As such, the Disability Resources Advisory Committee, made up of students, faculty, and professionals, reviewed and made many changes to the first draft. The entire faculty then had the opportunity to review that draft and suggest changes to the Faculty Senate Educational Policy Committee, who made additional alterations. Final minor edits were then made in Faculty Senate before it was adopted unanimously on April 8.

We will be emailing reminders to faculty of the new statement before the upcoming summer session and again before the fall semester. The new statement reads:

As part of SUNY Cortland’s commitment to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment, we strive to provide students with equal access to all courses. If you believe you will require accommodations in this course, please place a request with the Disability Resources Office at or call 607-753-2967. Please note that accommodations are generally not provided retroactively so timely contact with the Disability Resources Office is important. All students should consider meeting with their course instructor who may be helpful in other ways.

By Lauren Hosek, Disability Resources Student Ambassador

Students for Access and Ability in College (SFAAC) aims to address the needs and concerns of the disability community. This SGA-recognized club is finishing its first full year connecting students with disabilities and allies in a common purpose. Members mentor each other to start a conversation around the various accessibility struggles they deal with on campus, as well as everyday life as college student. SFAAC also aims to educate members of the College community about disability, accessibility challenges, and the disability climate on campus. The power of education is utilized by Devin Martinez, President of the club, as he leads each meeting to help members move in a forward direction. As a group they strive to help each other develop strategies to advocate for themselves and others. SFAAC is a welcoming, judgement-free, all-inclusive club that accepts everyone as they go all-out to help students through whatever challenges they may be facing.


SFAAC will be hosting a campus-wide event on Monday April 29, from 7-8:30 PM in the Corey Union Exhibition lounge. The event is called “RespectAbility”, a name meaning that above all, everyone deserves respect. At the event there will be tie-dye stations, a brief informational presentation about the club and its goals, and a free pizza dinner! The first 15 students to arrive will receive a free t-shirt to tie-dye. All other students may bring an item of clothing to tie-dye. Everyone is encouraged to come to support the club and be an ally to your peers as this will be a stress-free time of conversation, food, and fun!


By Christina Papaleo, Staff Assistant to the Chief Diversity Officer

Christina Papaleo, Staff Assistant to the Chief Diversity Officer, recently developed a Campus Accessibility Events Checklist for Events and Programs. This was adapted and used with permission by Cornell University’s Division of Human Resources. The goal of this resource is to provide students, faculty, and staff with guidelines to ensure that their events and programs are equitable. It is by no means a complete checklist, but rather a catalyst in supporting SUNY Cortland’s vision to be a “college of opportunity.”

“What some people misunderstand about accessibility is that it is not just for people with disabilities,” Papaleo said. “Oftentimes, accommodations are made for only a handful of people, without the acknowledgement that these actions may ultimately further marginalize someone who identifies with a disability–or even stigmatize the idea that receiving an accommodation is an extra step in a program, rather than something that can influence it.”

This checklist can become a way for campus community members to hold themselves accountable in maintaining the College’s commitment to equity and inclusion. To access the checklist, please visit the Disability Resources Office web page.

By Christina Papaleo, Staff Assistant to the Chief Diversity Officer

Drawing has always been the one thing in my life that never feels “disabling.” Despite criticism and comments I would receive for “being able to draw so well even though I had a visual impairment,” I knew that it could potentially be a place where I could find strength in my weakness. I hid in my sketchbook from preschool until high school, when I began to realize…as I shared my drawings with others…that what society calls “undesirable” (which is the short definition of “imperfection”), creativity calls remarkable. Advocacy and creativity called me out of the prison of “someday,” and that is where I found my purpose.

The more dependent we become on the words that people use to describe us based on what they see, the more uncertain we become of the truth that is inside of us that guides us into the life we are meant to live. Even as a student, I held onto that narrative of “not enough,” which led to an obsession of physically changing who I was–or punishing myself for who I was not. I thought looking perfect would be my all-access pass into acceptance and belonging. In retrospection, that insatiable hunger for perfection was nothing more than an all anxiety-inducing prison that kept me from braving what I was meant to experience.

I had a choice to make, and while I leaned on others to guide me to the “right” path, it is was ultimately something I had to do on my own: whether or not I wanted to hide from the world, or show it a new way to see.

Eventually I made peace with the idea that my greatest contribution was going to be hidden behind my greatest fear. Instead of fabricating perfection and thereby faking my identity, I had the opportunity to bring uncertain opportunities into physical realities through the same method I used to hide from a world where I felt rejected. My sketchbook.

Sometimes our most hated imperfections, which dwell in realms of uncertainty, lead us to our most desired opportunities. Drawing has always taught me that comfort isn’t courageous. The bravest place we will stand is in our own weakness. When our relationship with uncertainty is rooted in acceptance, we find it easier to make peace with change. When our relationship with uncertainty is rooted in denial, we find it difficult to see change as the path to growth. My blind side wasn’t meant to be a tool of hiding, but a teacher of healing.

My disability influences my creativity; it does not define it. I never draw out of sight (how people see who I am), but I always draw out of vision (what I believe about who I am and what I’ve been given). I do not think it is a coincidence that I returned to campus before I was able to reach one of my greatest breakthroughs… the moment where the “not enough” narrative was re-written into the “come as you are” story… receiving a prosthetic eye. It didn’t give me physical sight, but through this process, I realized that it was what I wanted my whole life. Freedom in my blind side and not from it …because it’s a creative gift that’s more life-giving and spirit-freeing than anything I could ever strive for.

The greatest prison that I could be freed from was the one that I put myself into. I learned that art is a way for us to connect and that we are all holding a part inside of us that wants to believe that vulnerability is not weakness. When we’re vulnerable, we take the risk of being criticized. But I believe that criticism is a hidden cry for connection.

I am an advocate of imperfection. I don’t want my story, or anyone else’s story to remain in silence–and now I am in a season where I don’t want it to serve as a place of resentment. We all have a blind side to brave.

By Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman, Assistant Director of Disability Resources

Our office views disability as part of the full spectrum of human diversity. We see our work as an expression of the College’s commitment to make equal access and inclusive excellence an institution-wide responsibility. One way we are furthering this commitment is through our work in the President’s Council on Inclusive Excellence (PCIE) and the Campus Climate on Diversity Committee (CCDC).

PCIE brings together stakeholders from the campus community to address issues of diversity and inclusion. As a member of the Council, Sue Sprague contributes to these discussions and raises issues that impact students living with disabilities.

CCDC is charged with getting a better understanding of the campus climate on diversity and highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, this will contribute to the College making all identity groups feel welcome, respected, and included as integral members of the campus community. This semester CCDC held separate focus group discussions on the campus climate on race, gender/gender expression/sexual orientation, (dis)ability, and religion and spirituality. Additional information was gathered at the Black Student Union town hall events. Information from all of these sessions was used to begin creating immediate change in several areas and also to create a campus climate survey that will be administered in the Fall semester. While participating in CCDC, Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman and Christina Papaleo are working to ensure that the disability climate is fairly measured and addressed.