The image is a lasting one for Peggy Hayeslip. During a heavy snowstorm, she noticed a student in a wheelchair outside an academic building on the university campus where she was working at the time. The student stared dejectedly at an eye-level pile of snow that blocked the handicapped-accessible entrance. Hayeslip, who was recently named university disability coordinator at Johns Hopkins, says the scene evoked in her an odd mix of anger, sadness and respect.
College can be a daunting experience both academically and socially for anyone, she says, but for those with disabilities, the hurdles are often multiplied. Rudimentary tasks like reading a book, taking notes in class, typing a paper or navigating the campus can require intense efforts.
"Here was this person just trying to get to class," Hayeslip says. "I think it's very admirable to see someone with a severe physical disability who has the persistence, the temperament, the motivation, the drive to continue to self-advocate and work within a system."
In the case of the snow-bound student, Hayeslip realized the system needed fixing, and, as that university's coordinator of disability services, she helped put in place new guidelines to ensure the incident would not be repeated.
For nearly 20 years Hayeslip has been working with and meeting the needs of disabled college students. Now she has brought her passion and experience to Hopkins. Hayeslip assumed her newly created position in October 2001, joining the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Programs. She in effect replaces and expands upon the role of university coordinator for disability services, a position left vacant following the retirement of Yvonne Theodore in late 2000.
Hayeslip's primary universitywide responsibilities are twofold: to bring a continuity to disability services and to increase the visibility of disability-related issues, most of which are "hidden" rather than severely physical. Hayeslip says she sees herself as a centralizing force in a decentralized institution.
Following the passage of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, Hopkins appointed a network of coordinators to handle the needs of both the learning disabled and those with physical limitations. Each division has at least one disability services coordinator who is responsible for interviewing the individual who requests services, collecting his or her documentation and ultimately determining the accommodation for this individual.
"My role, as I see it, is to empower, motivate and work with these coordinators so that they get to know each other and there is a more cohesive and coordinated set of services," Hayeslip says. "In the past, each person developed his or her own procedures, and there has been little continuity."
Currently, there are an estimated 300 students with disabilities enrolled at Johns Hopkins schools. The number of faculty and staff with disabilities is unknown, but one of Hayeslip's first tasks is to develop a reporting system to determine an exact figure.
Hayeslip says the majority of the population for whom she is responsible has what are referred to as hidden disabilities--attention deficit disorder, a learning disability such as dyslexia, or a psychological disorder. Hayeslip suspects that the number of students with hidden disabilities is likely greater than the already identified population.
"For one reason or another a student might be afraid to disclose this information to the university, but we can't help the students if they don't first come to us," says Hayeslip, who received a master's degree in special education from Duquesne and did additional advanced coursework at Hopkins. "It is up to the individual to find the appropriate coordinator to disclose his or her disability in order to start the process of implementation of accommodations."
Currently provided at Hopkins for persons with disabilities are sign language interpreters, library assistance, reader services, brailled materials, note-taking services, testing accommodations and accessible housing.
To receive services, a person needs to present documentation that verifies the disability and its severity. In the case of an overt disability like cerebral palsy, Hayeslip says, documentation would typically come from a licensed physician or neurologist who could give credible evidence of the diagnosis and the student's special needs. For students with a hidden disability, however, it is not so obvious as to who is a credible diagnostician, she says. Establishing appropriate and reasonable documentation guidelines is a high priority.
Hayeslip began her career as a special education teacher and consultant in Pennsylvania and Michigan. In 1982, she was hired by the Community College of Baltimore County at Essex to be its first learning disabilities specialist. Eleven years later, she filled the newly created post of coordinator of disability services at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Hayeslip says she enjoys the challenge of walking into a new position.
"I think one of the reasons I decided to come here was that there was an opportunity to make a change on this campus, to shape a new way of thinking," Hayeslip says. "I am excited about the fact that I am starting at the very beginning and can see the change evolve."
Ray Gillian, to whom Hayeslip reports, says Hayeslip stood out among an impressive list of candidates and was a clear choice for the new post. In addition to her university experience, Hayeslip has held national and regional offices in the Nation's Capital Disability Support Service Coalition and in AHEAD, the Association on Higher Education and Disability; was co-founder of the Maryland Disability Higher Education Network; and is a frequent speaker at national conferences. As the AHEAD representative to the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education committee, she currently is spearheading the rewriting of the national disability standards.
"Peggy brings with her a nearly unparalleled wealth of experience in a field that is relatively new," says Gillian, assistant provost and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Programs. "Through her efforts, I have no doubt she will improve upon and bring increased attention to the university's fine complement of disability services."
Hayeslip says she is still "getting the lay of the land" at Hopkins. High up on her agenda are to conduct walking tours of each campus to address physical access issues and to develop a training program that focuses on hidden disabilities.
"I will be looking into an educational program that will help faculty and staff spot those with hidden disabilities and know how to make referrals, while at the same time hopefully breaking down barriers of prejudice and discrimination. This is an often underestimated population, but I have seen hundreds of students with disabilities who have not only achieved their goals but have excelled."
Hayeslip says she is available to anyone who has a disability-related issue. To contact her, call 410-516-8075 to set up an appointment or get additional information. She also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.