BY ABBY BAKER '19
Kaitlin Molloy, J.D. started on Feb. 1 as the college’s new senior accommodation coordinator, having previously worked as the accommodation coordinator of Drexel University’s Office of Disability Resources.
Molloy, however, has been cognizant of the need for accessibility services for much of her life. Molloy was three years old when her younger brother was born completely blind. Growing up, Molloy’s parents emphasized differences in abilities: “some people have brown eyes, some people have blue eyes, some people have eyes that can’t see. And so that was how I was raised.”
Molloy’s brother Patrick was introduced into the public school system, and so Molloy and her brother attended the same schools and had the same teachers. Her brother had a successful public school experience, and Molloy took part in programs offered through her school to promote awareness of disability and accessibility. She was a member of Kids on the Block, a troop of high school students who perform puppet shows for elementary school students. Because of these early experiences, “I thought that was how the world worked,” said Molloy.
However, upon entering college, Molloy learned that other places were not as accessible. For example, when touring her college’s athletic center, she noted that there were two or three steps leading from the snack bar to the observation deck of the pool. When Molloy inquired as to why there was no ramp, the response was that a ramp was unnecessary there because there was a ramp in another location; however, this entailed a significantly longer path. Molloy was incredulous. “And I was like, really? But why isn’t it just a ramp? Because that would be easier for everyone. And I realized that I was the only person in the class that saw that,” she said.
Around the same time, Molloy’s brother was looking at colleges and find- ing mixed results. “There were some colleges that really got it and had accessibility offices and were really aware of students with disabilities and there were some where he looked at the colleges and decided not to apply because he said, ‘I can’t be successful here.’”
This was when Molloy realized that there was a job that involved both work- ing with college students and working with people with disabilities. After graduation, Molloy embarked on informational interviews to learn more about the potential career path, but found that, at the time, the career path wasn’t linear. As she said, “A lot of people working in the field have gotten there from maybe a round-about way. They started off in a different career. And so it was unique for someone to want that job right out of school.”
Though the consensus was that she would need an advanced degree, she received varying advice as to what the degree should be in. Some suggested social work, while others suggested psychology or special education. However, when serving on her college’s Americans with Dis- abilities Act Committee, members would share “these wonderful aspirational views for what the campus could be or should be or things that we could or should do that would make things better or be an improvement and then they would turn to the attorney at the table and say, so what does the law say about this issue? And I realized that that was a position of power in the room.” Molloy decided to go to law school.
The purpose of AccessAbility Services, as Molloy says, is to “level the playing field for students with disabilities.” While students choose what to do with the opportunity of attending college, Access-Ability Services “wants all students to have an equal chance of being successful at MHC,” according to Molloy.
Molloy says that disabilities can be defined broadly, and that the disability, “in some way affects them and they are unable to access Mount Holyoke on the same level as their peers and so our office’s job is to mitigate that impact such that we bring them up to the same level as their peers so that everybody has an equal shot at being successful.”
This can entail a variety of accommodations. Students with a food allergy may require dining accommodations. Others may have a learning disability or a physical barrier to campus and so, says Molloy, “there’s all sorts of accommodations that we put in place based on the student.”
Students seeking accommodations must be matriculated Mount Holyoke students and provide documentation of the disability. “I think the message that I would want students to have is that if you have questions come and ask, I’m here,” said Molloy.
Former Director of AccessAbility Services Deborah Cohen departed on Oct. 28, 2016. Molloy’s goal for the remainder of the semester is “continuity.” She added, “We’re still meeting with students, we’re still providing them with accommodations.”
Molloy is also unsure as to what, if any, changes she will implement. “I want to talk to people and see what’s going on and what’s working and if there are things that are not working and then come up with a plan to fix them ... I’ve only been here a month and I’m still learning loads.”
Correction: In the March 23 issue of Mount Holyoke News, this article incorrectly identified Kaitlin Molloy, J.D. as the senior accommodations director in AccessAbility Services; her title is senior accommodation coordinator.