JWU Prioritizes Accessibility and Inclusion

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one in every four adults in the United States lives with some form of disability. Similarly, approximately 20% of enrolled undergraduate students in the United States report having a disability.

As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reaches almost 33 years of existence, the need for greater inclusion and accessibility on college campuses remains prevalent. Not all college campuses and curriculums were built with disability in mind, and as a result, students with disabilities can face barriers to accessing equal education alongside their non-disabled peers. Institutions can make campuses more accessible by creating accommodations to policies and programs that prioritize equal access to all students.

“Johnson & Wales University’s Academic Success Center staff believe in creating an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and accessible to all individuals. We believe equitable access is the foundation of the JWU experience and strive to meet this goal through collaboration with students, faculty and other key stakeholders to ensure every member of our campus community is provided with the tools they need to succeed. For disabled students, this often means creating accommodations to current policies and procedures to allow those students to confidently access their learning environment alongside their peers,” says RJ Kilgore, director of academic success and accessibility services at JWU’s Charlotte Campus.

Enhancing Student Success: JWU’s Comprehensive Accessibility Support Services

Accommodations at JWU are as diverse as the students receiving them. However, some examples of accommodations provided include equitable testing accommodations — such as allowing appropriate adjustments to time limits, providing a space that reduces distractions and offering testing in an alternate format.

JWU also promotes accessible communication across all aspects of campus life by offering ASL (American Sign Language) interpreting in the classroom, student organization meetings, social gatherings and any other area a student may need.

To truly pinpoint the barriers to access and how the Academic Success Center team can help resolve them, each student review begins with a request for accommodations through a personal, one-on-one conversation. This interactive process allows JWU staff to hear the student’s perspectives on their disability and offer suggestions on ways to increase accessibility across campus. That first-person feedback, combined with supporting documentation and input from faculty, if needed, provides staff with a clear idea of what is required to ensure each student has equal access to their learning environments.

Another example of how JWU’s Center for Academic Success provides tailored support is how the university has strategically placed accessible labs that offer specialized assistance to students in key subjects. In addition, Kilgore’s introduction of a full-time success coach role, embedded peer tutors and supplemental instruction for gateway courses have yielded tangible results, with significant improvements observed in student outcomes.

JWU's comprehensive accessibility support services 

Prioritizing Accessibility: Why It Matters on College Campuses

Colleges that prioritize having an accessibility mindset see overall improvements in student experience, recruitment and retention. The Academic Success Center has created a curriculum to educate faculty and staff on the importance of accessibility, which allows them to implement simple strategies to ensure equal access.

Through Kilgore’s visionary leadership, the Academic Success Center has undergone remarkable growth and transformation. Initially serving 14% of the student population in 2021, it now caters to 38%. Under Kilgore’s direction, staffing levels have more than doubled, including a significant rise in peer and professional tutors and student assistants. This expansion not only amplifies support but also enhances the center's capacity to meet diverse student needs.

Students of all abilities can benefit from an environment exercising an accessibility-first approach. For instance, when creating an online learning portal that is accessible to students who have visual impairments or dyslexia, students without these impairments will benefit from the organized, clean layout of the site as well. Moreover, when physical space is built to be inclusive of all abilities, those without disabilities benefit too. Curb cuts designed for wheelchair users can also make life easier for parents with strollers, professors pushing carts of classroom supplies or bikers needing to get onto the sidewalk quickly and safely.

Prioritizing accessibility: Why it matters on college campuses

Leading the Way: JWU’s Commitment to Inclusive Higher Education

Johnson & Wales values the diverse learning styles of its students and embraces inclusivity by welcoming all students to its campus, ensuring they feel like valued members of our community.

As an industry leader, Johnson & Wales champions accessibility in higher education through programs like the North Carolina Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) conference, which JWE hosted in 2022. This statewide event encourages educators to collaborate, expand opportunities for people with disabilities and provide the framework and networking needed to adopt more inclusive policies and procedures.

In April, Kilgore and Chris Stone, director of Disability Resources at Washington University at St. Louis, will assume leadership roles in an esteemed three-day master training session organized by AHEAD.

Johnson & Wales University’s dedication to delivering exceptional education to all students is evident in its support of innovative programs and initiatives both on and off campus. Through investments in staff development, strategic programming and participation in collaborative educational conferences, JWU is leading by example and expanding accessibility options to enhance every student's college experience.

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