Ethical Compliance: Taking Responsibility for Equity in Disability Services


Wednesday, November 1


10:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.


Jen Dugger and Jewls Harris


“Ethical compliance” calls for Disability Service providers to interpret ADA regulations with curiosity, flexibility, and an open mind. Ultimately, “ethical compliance” provides the best possible learning platform to students who have experienced decades of marginalization, continued distress and/or difficulties due to their disabilities, inaccessible environments, and stigma. In higher education, most of us realize that ADA compliance is the least we can do to provide disabled students with an education. But are we really fulfilling our responsibility for equity?
When it comes to physical accessibility, we are much more adept at seeing the nuances between what we have to do and what we should do in order to provide a more inclusive experience for students with disabilities. As an example, we know that an entrance around the back of a building is technically “accessible” but also excludes students with disabilities from having the same experience of the university community as their peers. We know that a door without an automatic door opener is technically “accessible” but that it also sends a message to students who are not tall enough/strong enough/able enough to open the door by way of the handle that they are too disabled to deserve support.

But if just meeting compliance doesn’t actually provide our students with an opportunity to do as well as their peers, then it’s not providing “equal access” which is the whole point of the ADA! In fact, in our attempts to meet ADA guidelines, our well-intentioned practices, policies, and procedures may inadvertently build more barriers in front of our (already marginalized) students. As an example, many students on the Autism Spectrum do not get the support they actually need because academic accommodations, as we’ve traditionally thought of them, generally do not apply. Without offering other creative solutions, many of these students will not succeed in college…and yet, the institution would be seen as having met compliance for having offered academic accommodations.

What if we start from scratch? As Disability Service providers, we’re focused on answering what is “equal” or equitable access for each disabled student on a case-by-case basis. And in Disability Services, we so often recognize that compliance is the “floor”, not the “ceiling”, and that we must do more than merely comply with the law in order to provide our students with truly equitable learning opportunities. But the problem is, when we start with “where is the floor” and “what is the least I must do in order to remain in compliance?”, and then ask “what more can I do?”, we only get so far. If we instead start with “where is the ceiling” and “what are all of the things I can do to help ensure my student has equitable learning opportunities”, we end up much closer to the ceiling!

We have developed and would love to be able to share the Five Tenets of Ethical Compliance:

  • Support the whole student: Honor a student’s preferences, developmental process, and intersecting identities and experiences.
  • Foster growth-oriented balance: Maintain a continual balance between accommodations/support and independence/growth
  • Demonstrate effective leadership: Own responsibility as an effective leader of community-driven efforts toward equity and access for students with disabilities
  • Determine need-based support: Provide accommodation and support predominantly determined by need, not by budget.*
  • Strive toward the ideal: Ethical Compliance will never be fully realized. Our ethical obligation is to continually work toward this goal.

Learning Outcomes

  • Apply a progressive lens to the interpretation of the ADA
  • Assess current accommodations for the flexibility needed to support student growth and interdependence
  • Provide ethical compliance with more robust and responsive services

Presenter Bio(s)

Jen Dugger, M.A.
Jen Dugger is the Director of the Disability Resource Center at Portland State University. She earned her M.A. in Higher Education Administration from Southeast Missouri State University (2006). She has worked in the field of disability resources and services for more than nearly fifteen years. Jen is a member of the ACLU Board of Directors and the AHEAD national board of directors. Jen has presented annually at the national AHEAD conference since 2009 on a variety of topics including: successfully incorporating disability into diversity initiatives on campus, the intersections of gender, sexuality, and disability, and using social sustainability and the sustainability movement for the benefit of accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. Jen says that the best part of her job is working to increase the capacity of faculty and staff to be able to see and understand disability as a component of diversity and to successfully address issues of accessibility and inclusion before a person with a disability has to request an accommodation.

Jewls Harris, M.A.
Jewls Harris, MA CRC NCC, is an Access Counselor and Consultant at the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at Portland State University (PSU). Jewls received her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from PSU in 2008. Jewls served on the city of Portland Commission on Disability for four years and was Vice Chair for two. She had a private counseling practice with a focus on disability and has also worked extensively with National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Since joining the DRC, she successfully overhauled the classroom assistant program for blind and physically impaired students. The program includes a full day of training with ongoing supervision that ensures balanced support and autonomy while mirroring the mission of the DRC. Jewls serves on the Accessibility Committee at PSU, as a Member-at-Large on the ORAHEAD Board of Directors, and as Co-Chair of AHEAD’s Blind and Visually Impaired SIG. She has presented multiple times at regional and national conferences including AHEAD in 2016.