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The Inaccessability of the Accessible Education Office

By The Crimson Editorial Board

Harvard’s Accessible Education Office is among the most important institutions on campus. Ensuring that disability poses no barrier to getting a Harvard education is one of our highest duties as a community. Unfortunately, funding that effort is not a very flashy business; no buildings to name, ribbons to cut, professorships to endow. The AEO is chronically underfunded. Harvard can change that.

We appreciate the heroic effort of individual AEO officers while acknowledging the difficulty of getting a hold of them. Students often feel that long wait times compound the difficulties the AEO is trying to resolve in the first place. Succeeding at Harvard is a difficult feat on its own. A disability, even properly accommodated, makes it that much harder. The University adds a third layer of difficulty by under-resourcing the office with the power to alleviate the first two.

A well-resourced office is particularly important when the process of accommodating disability requires so much documentation. We recognize the unfortunate necessity of some of that bureaucracy — the details of disability are important in crafting appropriate accommodations, and some degree of verification is necessary. But this is an argument for more funding, not less.

We call on Harvard to provide that funding. For the richest university in the world, accessibility should be viewed as a basic essential, not a contingent luxury. Fortunately, there is a clear path for securing that funding even if Harvard remains unwilling to shell out.

Court donors. CAMHS’s new 24/7 hotline, funded by the donation of a Harvard parent, provides a model for how to fund the efforts necessary to support our most vulnerable classmates. So long as we are dependent on the whims of donors, we should make donating to the AEO as appealing as endowing a professorship. Maybe that means putting naming rights in play, flattering donors with the attention of top administrators, marking donations with high-publicity events.

We can think of few better uses of our administrators’ time and our institution’s brand. Surely great leadership lies in part in keeping the most vulnerable in our community eminently in mind. And while they’re at it, the administration should increase transparency on how frequently the AEO is used. We suspect that if they did, the absurdity of giving the AEO six employees to jointly serve Harvard’s graduate and undergraduate population.

We watch as Harvard expands its campus, renovates buildings, and increases its endowment each year, while students’ most pressing needs for mental health support and disability accomodation go underfunded. This is a natural consequence of the donor-dependent system which will prevail at Harvard for the foreseeable future. It is not, however, an inevitable consequence of that system. More than almost any other institution in the world, Harvard has bargaining power with its donors. We have an incredibly powerful brand. When we lay out our priorities, when we actively pursue them, when we make tradeoffs to support them, we will get results.

All that remains is to choose those priorities. Surely one must be an Accessible Education Office that’s actually accessible.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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