First-time visitors to Accessibility Resources & Service often arrive with concerns that their disability or medical condition may prevent them from equal access to success at Carolina. Whether they are mobility-, sight- or hearing-impaired, have ADD or ADHD, or any number of other disabilities, the stress surrounding this very important issue can be daunting. Tiffany Bailey, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Accessibility Resources Director – herself a person with disability (or PWD) – understands their fears and immediately puts them at ease with a smile and energy that assures them that they have found an ally.
Indeed, Bailey has earned her reputation as a tireless champion towards ensuring that the specific requests and needs of a very special population are met. Viviane Ackall, the Accessibility Resources Coordinator, says of her colleague, “Tiffany is a model to all UNC staff and shows that it is possible to provide inclusion and advocate for under-represented populations with respect, attentive listening, and sincerity.”
Although Bailey is humble about her accomplishments, she has made great progress in providing accessibility for students on the UNC campus: she collaborates with other departments to ensure ADA accessibility for everything from sporting events to websites; she participates in departmental training and orientations; she helps organize events like “UNC’s Birthday Celebration” and Empowering Carolina Disability Awareness (co-sponsored with EOC); she provides outreach and resources; and she serves on numerous committees (notably University Surveys and Transition Plan, and the Office of the Dean of Students CARE Team) to help form policies that protect the rights, needs and interests of students with disabilities (SWD).
She has been working at UNC since 2006: first, as assistant director and later as interim director at UNC-Greensboro before coming to Chapel Hill in 2010 as the assistant director. In 2013, she was named the director of ARS. She has also served as president of the NC Association on Higher Education and Disability (NC AHEAD) from 2010 to 2011 and has presented both locally and nationally regarding best practices in disability services.
A typical day can include one-on-one meetings with students to discuss accommodations, barriers, collaborative opportunities, or consultations with faculty and staff or committee meetings regarding various topics where access needs to be taken into consideration. She works closely with EOC, who serves faculty and staff to educate the campus community on disability and ARS processes.
Early on in her tenure at Carolina, Bailey identified several areas of focus regarding diversity and inclusion. “Outreach to graduate and professional students and their schools to help support them was one area [that needed addressing],” she recalls. “We also needed more detailed communication with faculty regarding approved accommodations and the role we play.”
She’s made progress in each of the targeted areas. “We’ve added the additional accommodations to instructor notifications letters,” she says. “In collaboration with Housing and Campus Dining, we created one single process where students can request academic, housing and dining accommodations. Additionally, we’ve worked closely with graduate and professional schools regarding the creation and implementation of technical standards and training for staff and faculty.”
Ever advocating for inclusion, she says one of the best ways to empower students is to let their voices be heard. “Normalize disability,” she says adamantly. “You work with students with disabilities in the same manner in which you work for all students. There may be some unique things to consider, but the principles are the same. Sometimes, I think assumptions, perceptions and attitudes are the largest barriers to making PWD feel included.”
With one in 30 undergraduate, graduate and professional students identified in ARS as having disabilities or a medical condition (and the number continues to rise) raising awareness and normalizing disability has become paramount. “Disability is normal! My disabled mentor, Rose, said to me at a particular challenging point in my disability identity development, ‘If disability happens every day, all the time, how can it be abnormal?’ This is the philosophy I take when approaching programming. It is about giving students, faculty and staff with disabilities a voice. This is why our Spring 2017 Empowering Carolina Disability Awareness event highlighted people with hidden disabilities.”
Focusing on building collaborative relationships and assisting in helping people understand disability and its impact on people is essential. “If I’m aware of a committee I that I think an ARS staff person should be on, I will call the organizer and offer to assist. Yes, I invite myself or a member of my staff to be on the committee!” she laughs. “And then I explain HOW we can assist!”
Fortunately, this approach has been well received. “Through these conversations, we are either invited to the regular committee meetings or we are seen as an entity that can help consult, review documents and/or provide feedback.”
Part of the process includes attention to Universal Design as part of Carolina’s roadmap for diversity and inclusion. “Universal Design is a critical component in what we do and our philosophy,” acknowledges Bailey. “It’s about creating accessible curriculum, programs, services, facilities, etc. that are accessible to the most amount of people no matter the intersections of identity.”
Although Bailey is uniquely qualified to guide people who need ARS services, it can still be difficult at times. “I bring almost 11 years of experience working the field to help eliminate barriers. Additionally, I bring my individual experience as a person with a disability and all that entails,” she says. “I think at times, it also makes it difficult, emotionally, to do this work when my experience as a PWD may mirror what another person is experiencing. Self-care is critical and something I try my best to do.”
By her estimates, Bailey splits her time fairly evenly between educating faculty or staff and comforting people and letting them know that they matter. “So much about education and advocacy also has to do with validating a student or person’s experience. Sometimes, I can have rather emotional meetings with people who have interacted with individuals who just do not quite get the challenges/barriers they are experiencing. Part of the perk of having a disability and doing this work is that I can empathize with what people are experiencing.”
In spite of the challenges, Bailey finds her work extremely rewarding. “Working with students one on one and seeing the impact they make on campus, thinking up creative solutions to access dilemmas and working with the amazing staff in the ARS office are all so rewarding,” she says.
She ponders this for a moment, then adds, definitively, “I think any time I see one of our students on campus just being students is the most rewarding to me.”
If you are an incoming or current student with a diagnosed disability, please click here to complete a Self-Identification form for registration with ARS.
By Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Inclusion