Where DSO Accommodations End

Photograph provided by Jess Kszos
Photograph provided by Jess Kszos

When working as intended, the Disability Services Office (DSO) provides students the accommodations they need for their classes such as extra test time and leniency in regards to attendance. However, certain classes at RIT require students to venture off campus. Jess Kszos, a fourth-year photojournalism major, realized that the DSO is unable to accommodate her required classes, raising questions about RIT’s promise to provide fair accommodations and access to all students.

Kszos was required to go on trips to New York City and Washington, D.C. for classes as part of her major. During the trip to NYC in 2022 led by associate professor Meredith Davenport, Kszos experienced intense setbacks due to her movement disability which makes walking a challenge for her.

“I get to the trip and we start walking and walking and walking, going from company to company. All of my classmates and my professor would start walking, and pretty soon they would be walking ahead of me. And, I guess no one thought to wait back.” Kszos said, “The fourth day we were going to Aperture and it just all started to get to be too much. I was in pain and I was tired of being left behind so I just started crying.”

Josh Meltzer, an associate professor in photojournalism at the School of Photographic Arts and Science who ran the D.C. trip, recalled Kszos’s request for accommodations.  

The trip to NYC, Meltzer explained, is “a five hour trip with three to four hours per day… I would say about 17 different meetings during the week.” All meetings are important and offer valuable learning experiences.  

Response from the DSO

Catherine Lewis, the Director of Disability Services spoke about some of the support systems that are in place to help with students, as well as explained some of the difficulties when it comes to getting fair services through the DSO. She explained that the DSO can give accommodations, but does not have the authority to fundamentally alter the way a class works.

Due to the fact that the entire point of the D.C. and NYC trips is to bring the photo students to locations related to their industry within these areas, the DSO is unable to make overhauls to the course to further accommodate these students, although they can help a student work with case management to look into other available resources that can assist in their needs.

Lewis also spoke about the current resources available for students on RIT’s campus. RIT allows students to temporarily borrow a movement scooter if they need to use them. That said, these devices are only available for on-campus use and only for use in a short time frame. Students required to go off campus are unable to rent these scooters, despite other accommodations they may have because of the nature of the trips.

“If we have a resource that is available within the scope of campus, we may not be able to provide that off campus because we can't ensure the same protections and safety of a student that we could if they were here.” said Lewis.

Lewis also spoke about how the DSO can work with case management to assist students in obtaining services that they are unable to provide directly.

Jessica Montalbano, one of the case managers on campus, spoke of some of the challenges that come with providing students with the proper equipment to meet their movement-related accommodation needs. Montalbano said that students who have challenges with off campus movement can work with the case management office to find other ways to obtain a scooter for off campus use, such as buying one through a medical service.

“We may sit down with [students] and call the back of the insurance card with them to understand what benefits [their insurance provides]. Sometimes it's applying for financial assistance if [the students are] receiving outside medical support and getting large bills.” she said.

Not Enough Support?

Kszos believes that this support is not enough to assist students facing challenges, especially in regards to any required off campus activities. She explained that she wants the university to do more to support students with movement related disabilities and ensure that all of their classes are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“I can find places to rent scooters to help with this trip. I needed financial assistance of some kind, like they have previously helped me with for a required class, to afford a scooter for D.C.” Kszos said, “I think this is discrimination based on the ADA. And I did say that to case management and I kept fighting and then eventually I just stopped responding because it wasn't getting anywhere.” 

Meltzer typically received notes from the DSO for accommodations, but on the trip Kszos handled the request on her own.  Requesting accommodations for a field trip happened outside of the classroom, limiting the professor's ability to ensure Kszos received what she requested.  In a separate class Meltzer taught the prior semester, Kszos was informed of the impending trip and he encouraged her to explore options.  Meltzer wasn’t sure the specifics of what happened on the trip adding, “sounds like the DSO was not able to satisfy her request.”    

Meltzer, and other faculty within the College of Art and Design who help run the trips are understanding of Kszos’ disability.  They wanted to assist her as best they can while making sure that both she and her classmates are able to get the full experience such a trip offered.

Kszos hopes that the DSO and case management are better able to address the needs of students for all forms of accessibility challenges and concerns. These trips are a major draw of the photojournalism program at RIT, and are just one of many opportunities for off campus travel offered by the university. Ideally, these trips should be made inclusive and feasible for all students, regardless of their needs.