In 2015, then-first-year Student Council Representative George Costanzo ’19 created a committee consisting mostly of first-year students to address issues of accessibility on campus. One of the initial members of this committee was Lynne Cullen ’19, the only student intern at Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS), the organization responsible for coordinating accommodations for students with disabilities.
Both of Cullen’s mothers have a stake in disability rights: one is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the other works as a disability rights lawyer. Upon her arrival at Kenyon, Cullen quickly became involved with disability activism. “I kind of just dove right in and went to [Director of Student Accessibility and Support Services] Erin [Salva] and just talked to her and was like, ‘Listen, there’s a huge lack of understanding of accessibility at Kenyon,’” Cullen said. “I felt that with my knowledge I could actually do some pretty good work at Kenyon.”
For her first project with SASS, Cullen inspected every school building, noting accessible and inaccessible features. From then on, Cullen has formulated many of her own projects. SASS’s most recent work includes negotiating with the new construction projects on campus. Because each newly constructed building must be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, SASS has attempted to advise the administration on how best to construct accessible buildings. “They’ve been a bit receptive,” Cullen said, “but not as much as I personally feel like they could have been.”
Although Cullen believes that the SASS has made significant progress, she expressed frustration with the perceived lack of care or attention for disability rights among administrators. Cullen has also been involved in assessing the possibility of making Ascension Hall accessible. Although Cullen does not believe the project will be completed any time soon, there are plans to renovate Ascension in 2023, according to the March 17 meeting of Student Council. “It is really hard to structurally change it, because of the historical society getting involved,” Cullen said. “Also, it’s such a strange layout in general that the only way we could put in an elevator is if we destroyed the Philomathesian. People don’t want to do that.”
At the time of printing, SASS is looking for a replacement for Cullen once she graduates. Cullen is optimistic about the future of SASS, as well as the future of her position, citing an increased interest in accessibility issues on campus since her first year. “I feel like there’s a lot more people thinking, ‘Wow, this would’ve been really hard for someone on crutches,’” Cullen said.
When it comes to disability rights, Cullen believes that any movement toward accessibility is valuable, no matter how small. “Well, luckily, since I understand that activist work is a very slow process, I’m happy with the work I’ve done,” Cullen said. “I obviously wish I could have done a lot more. A lot of things were stopped because of . . . issues. I think that even the smallest amount of work is important for disability rights, because it’s such an obscure field that a lot of people don’t think about.”