The associate director of student accessibility services promotes “universal design.”
Alicia Brandon arrives at work in Carson Suite 125 each day with one overriding goal: making sure that all students with disabilities have everything they need to reach their full potential at Dartmouth. After meeting individually with students, Brandon, the associate director of student accessibility services, collaborates with faculty and staff on strategies— to remove accessibility barriers to learning, living, and traveling. In December, she received an “Award of Excellence” for her work—a glass plaque that catches the light on a windowsill in her cheery, plant-filled office.
This staff snapshot is part of the Lone Pine Recognition Program for Dartmouth College Staff.
Job Title: Associate Director, Student Accessibility Services
How long have you worked in student accessibility services?
I celebrated my third year at Dartmouth last August. Before I came here, I was a teacher. I have a master’s degree in education and was certified in special education. I’ve taught at the preschool, elementary, middle-school, and college grade levels, eventually working in the Institute for Research and Training at Landmark College in Putney, Vt., which focuses on helping students with learning disabilities. That’s where I learned how to apply the principles of universal design in the classroom.
What is universal design?
Universal design stems from the field of architecture, and the effort to make buildings usable and accessible to the widest array of users. For educators, it’s a concept—a practice—that says, “Let’s consider the widest array of human profiles and design our instructional practices to be mindful of differences. For example, what if you have a student who can’t see or hear or speak, how would you make sure information is conveyed and the student can demonstrate learning?
What is your role in Dartmouth’s Student Accessibility Services program?
Students who have documented disabilities have their practitioners provide our office with those documents. I meet with each student and we work together to identify any appropriate and reasonable services and adjustments. Then we communicate with parties across campus who need to know about and make those adjustments in classrooms, housing, dining services, and so forth. Students continue to keep in touch with us, depending on their situations. Some have short-term disabilities, like a concussion or a broken hand, and others have chronic or long-term conditions. It is helpful when students come back and check in with us so we can ask things like, “How did that class go?” or, “Do we need to communicate differently with your professor?”
What is your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is building uniform awareness of disability rights and equity. My goal is to remove stigmatization so that there’s greater inclusion and respect and understanding that a disability is not a choice.
What’s your favorite part of this job?
Interacting with students and faculty. There are phenomenal faculty on this campus and some of them are practicing universal design without even realizing it. I love seeing students persist and achieve their goals. When they succeed, there’s a shift in their whole demeanor and how they carry themselves. They become their real selves.
What keeps you busy away from work?
Spending time with my family. I have a daughter who is a senior at the University of Vermont and my son has just enrolled in a diesel technology program at the Universal Technical Institute in Norwood, Ma. My husband works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, so we can commute together, which is great. We live an hour south of here, in the middle of nowhere, on a dead-end road near a state forest on the outskirts of Saxton’s River, Vt. Summer is my season. We swim and kayak and hike, and I do lots of gardening.
Charlotte Albright can be reached at [email protected].