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U. of Rhode Island celebrates "neurodiveristy"

July 11, 2023, University of Rhode Island: Celebrating neurodiversity and equal opportunity at URI

KINGSTON, R.I. At the end of the spring semester, the University of Rhode Island’s Office of Equal Opportunity hosted a lunch-and-learn session to provide a forum for faculty and staff.

Interest in the topic was high: 92 attendees spent their lunch hour learning and asking questions about neurodiversity and compliance with applicable federal and state laws and regulations.
This was the first program offered of its kind since the advent of COVID-19, with more planned for the year ahead.

Dorca Paulino-Smalley initiated the program, and began offering a roster of similar events and conversations soon after joining URI in December as the University’s first director of the Office of Equal Opportunity. She came to URI from the Rhode Island Supreme Court, where she developed the Rhode Island Judiciary’s equal employment opportunity and affirmative action compliance programs.

But Paulino-Smalley wants to see the work be viewed as more than a legal requirement.

“We want to bring subject matter expertise to the table, not just check a box,” she says. “Our goal is to be an institution that is responsive to the needs of our students and workforce.”

Neurodiverse student and personnel needs at URI.

At URI, the office of Disability, Access and Inclusion is often the first point of contact for students. Qualified students who identify as having a disability or chronic condition have the right to equal access to the University’s programs, services, activities, and facilities.

Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis, in compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and University policy.

A person who is neurodivergent — a term coined in 1998 — has a different learning style, social preference, or way of communication compared to a “neurotypical” person. Common types of neurodiversity include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, tic disorders, dementia, and depression.

Neurodivergent individuals at URI can connect with the following offices for support: the Disability, Access and Inclusion office (for students), the Human Resource Administration office (for employees), the Office of Equal Opportunity (for students or employees), and the Facilities Group (for Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessible design). The University’s Event Planning Accessibility Toolkit provides a list of internal partners dedicated to supporting institutional ADA compliance.

Paige Ramsdell, assistant dean of Students for Accessibility and Inclusion, says the University has students with complex needs and those numbers are increasing….

Sears counsels other students to speak up about their situations to find solutions. She became a student leader in the student advocacy group to help normalize neurodiversity, increase awareness, decrease stigma, and make URI a more inclusive and accessible place…..


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