Incapacity is not taken severely at Hopkins

During my time as a PhD student in the Engineering for Professionals (EP) program, I had nine Hopkins professors. Only two have provided the disabled accommodation promised by the university. The friendlier ones treat accommodations like a courtesy they can ignore. Others fear that I am an unreasonable, politically correct bomb that is about to explode as if housing the disabled had gone too far.

Only one treated me like a human.

Before COVID-19, EP was terrible but tolerable for a disability. Since the pandemic, my classes have been unbearable, even if everything works.

My zoom lip reading sucks, and the university’s live subtitles are a hit or miss. So even though I’m attending class, I won’t be able to do the assigned work until I have transcriptions. Before and after COVID-19, almost every professor I’ve had who has used audio / video submitted material late for transcription.

Not just days late. Weeks, months. Never.

Now my class is Monday or Tuesday night on Zoom, with an assignment based on the week’s material due on the class day of the following week. Every Thursday my professors describe how to do tasks during online consultation hours.

Zoom transcripts from class can arrive within 48 hours, sometimes even 24 hours, or take up to 72 hours without a weekend transcription. Copies of the consultation hours on Thursday therefore often arrive on the Monday or Tuesday of the following week, which means that I will only receive the transcripts of the consultation hours on the due date of the task – or the day after.

I’m not brilliant enough to get my job done in 20 to 40% less time than the other students and without access to the consultation material. This is not equal access; it’s structural discrimination.

Before the pandemic, I could sometimes get extensions if Hopkins screwed up my place to stay. Now most of the time I can’t. Last semester my professor was late in submitting a lot of material for the transcription – I even waited up to 10 weeks after the original material was assigned to get the transcription.

Last semester, my disability coordinator told me that I had attended a Zoom session that was never transcribed, in fact did not take place. And she wouldn’t acknowledge the problem of having transcripts arrive on the day the assignment was due – or the day after, even if professors submit them on time. I got tired. She has haunted me.

I’ve found that no matter how badly Hopkins treats you as a disabled student, you should never act upset or angry. They will use it as an excuse to ignore you.

A few examples from before COVID-19: Another Hopkins-approved shelter is that my professors are expected to wear a clip-on microphone when teaching in person, which flows directly into my hearing aids. My data structures professor carried it inconsistently even after I contacted the department to complain. After I threatened to use my old journalist contacts to write about it, the professor finally obeyed.

Two others didn’t want to look ahead when they were giving lectures – my computer architecture professor declined in writing, and my algorithms professor defied a direct request from an attorney at the University’s Office of Institutional Equity (OIE).

My algorithms professor also loved to tap my streaming microphone, which hurt my ears so much that I had to take out my hearing aids – which is a real personal injury. I think he started in protest because he didn’t like my department telling him to look ahead. I asked him to stop. He wouldn’t. I consider this physical abuse.

I’ve told several administrators, but there was no answer.

A group of conference attendees at the Applied Physics Lab (APL) who appeared to be drunk tried to kick me out of a private room for half a year. (APL has beer and wine at some of the events.) I persuaded her to leave. They came back and tried to kick me out again. One of my accommodations is a private test room, but since APL is somewhat open to the public, I had to randomly wander people to my exams for two years before Hopkins agreed to a supervisor.

My professors outed me as disabled in groups of 75 to 100 students without my consent by talking about my accommodation in three separate classes during the lecture. My handicaps are invisible; I’m a fairly private person, and I believe their behavior is against federal law.

My software engineer professor once yelled so loudly about my disability that the whole floor could hear it. After discussing my streaming microphone during the talk without my consent, I asked him to speak in the hallway and politely asked him to stop. In response, he went in my face and screamed around his academic freedom – said he had every right to speak about my disability in class. I searched the exits because I was afraid he would hit me.

After that incident, I reached out to Student Disability Services (SDS) who had already worked with the professor to make sure he was providing housing and following the correct guidelines. SDS was more upset that I used the word “f ** k” in an email than that I feared for my physical safety.

In my experience, going to SDS is a bad idea. My computer architecture professor seems to have turned me on after talking to them. I think the yeller blew me up because SDS pestered him before class even started.

SDS doesn’t seem to have control over professors and they don’t listen to students. Once when SDS was investigating, they asked the professor – a guy who had written refusal to implement an approved agreement – how class was going. You never asked me.

So I decided to only work with my department’s disability coordinator. That didn’t go well either. At the end of February 2021, I told her that I think my computer architecture professor bullied me during an office hour. (See clip, incident starts at 4:05 am.) I never heard a thing.

About two years ago, Hopkins silently changed the complaints procedure for students with disabilities. We can no longer submit complaints to the OIE. Students facing disability discrimination can only complain within the university’s own disability framework, which does not appear to imply any external accountability. At least the OIE publishes blanket statements about the types of cases they receive.

This policy change effectively excludes disabled students from the university’s civil rights process so that Disability discrimination is not treated as a civil rights violation at Hopkins. This attitude shows how SDS handled the problems I had – as if they were small inconveniences with no moral dimension, and my anger is just that I’m being silly.

It is likely that my problems are a small representation of the widespread systemic and individual ableism (discrimination of disabilities) at Hopkins. Discrimination that the school refuses to acknowledge.

Like other universities, Hopkins tracks graduation rates for women, blacks, Native Americans, and other groups, but I haven’t found a single college that tracks graduation rates for disabled students. I don’t think colleges and universities care what happens to us. If they did, they’d be chasing us. They would ask us about our experience.

My reality is that I have never seen a visibly disabled student in a classroom at Hopkins, not even in a photo.

My professors don’t know about disability rights under the law until they violate them and I go to the administration. Hopkins admits that I need academic accommodation, but not that if I don’t get it, my academic performance could suffer.

It is that if I stand up for myself I will suffer retribution. The fact is that I dropped out of courses with no refund because I fell critically behind due to the lack of accommodation at the university. It keeps trying to convince professors to implement the adjustments Hopkins says I should have had.

I haven’t seen any evidence that the university has tried to normalize disabilities in the classroom, or even cared about what disabled students think.

Normally I wouldn’t write publicly about my disabilities, but Hopkins essentially outed me at my workplace. Since EP is one of the most popular information technology (IT) Masters programs in Maryland, many of my fellow students work for companies or clients in my field, including my own company.

Because of the leaks from Hopkins EP in the classroom, my world now knows that I am disabled. So I believe it is moral to warn others – if you are disabled, avoid EP.

You might also be careful with the rest of Hopkins.

Laurel Maury is currently a PhD student in the Hopkins Engineering For Professionals program. She works in IT in Maryland.

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