In response to concerns voiced by students with disabilities, Barnard College has updated its physical education requirement to better accommodate these students and to reflect a level of support comparable to that offered at peer institutions.
All Barnard students must take one physical education course in order to graduate. However, students registered with the Office of Disability Services have often had difficulty being placed in courses that met their individual needs. 522 students are currently registered with ODS, up from 426 during the spring 2017 semester.
According to Executive Director for Equity Molree Williams-Lendor, the college has decreased the number of strength and endurance courses and is now offering more sections of courses like “mind/body” and “special” courses—including yoga, self-defense, and total body conditioning courses, which are more widely accessible.
The change comes as students with disabilities at Barnard have begun to push for increased visibility and support on campus from faculty, staff, and other students.
“There has been a group brought together that has been meeting on that issue with the goal of reviewing the process,” Williams-Lendor said. “[We’re] looking at the offerings and options for students to meet their PE requirements, and we’ve had some progress in that area.”
Najaad Dayib, BC ’19, who is registered with ODS for chronic pain issues, said that in the past she has had to rely on support from professors to receive accommodations in physical education classes, because there was no formal mechanism in place.
“I had to work it out with the professor and self-identify my health issues. In my case, the professor was the one making the accomodations,” she said. “I gathered a lot of information and brought it to the Title IX Coordinator [Williams-Lendor] and was like ‘Barnard is behind; Barnard is not accessible; the PE requirement is not accessible; there needs to be a change.’”
Williams-Lendor said that the college plans to make the process more “user-friendly” for students with disabilities.
“We’re finalizing those [options] now but we’re including additional class offerings to better meet students with different types of disabilities, so that there are more offerings as well as some tweaking of past offerings so that it’s more accessible,” Williams-Lendor said.
Kiyun Kim, BC ’18, said that she thinks that the updated policy will make satisfying the physical education requirement easier for students with disabilities.
“More accommodations [are] never a bad thing. They’re there so we can support more people without creating undue stress or in some cases doing actual harm to them,” she said.
Ultimately, Dayib said that she thinks the policy change will also make the rest of the Barnard community more aware of the challenges faced by students with disabilities.
“I think that people are aware now that there are aspects built into this institution that are inherently inaccessible,” she said. “Awareness … helps to create an environment on this campus where disabled students are taken seriously, legitimized, validated, and their existence is noticed.”