University policies support individuals with disabilities, in compliance with ADA

Princeton University is committed to supporting students with disabilities and is fully in compliance with the federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Recently, as part of a compliance review, the Department of Justice (DOJ) assessed University policies and practices relating to students with mental health disabilities. DOJ did not make any findings of non-compliance, but asked Princeton to update its policy language to better explain University procedures and options available to students with disabilities, which Princeton has agreed to do.

Princeton's policies and practices are designed to enable its students, including students with disabilities, to succeed. The University seeks to provide students with disabilities equal access to educational opportunities and programs on campus. The Office of Disability Services (ODS), residential college staff and numerous others work with students to ensure they have every reasonable opportunity to earn a Princeton degree.

"The University really has a community-wide approach — with support from staff in offices across campus and the residential colleges, as well as from individual faculty — to ensure that undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities get the access they deserve," said Michele Minter, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity.

Minter said the University continually reviews its policies and practices to best support students with disabilities, and to provide reasonable accommodations based on assessments of individual student needs. For example, students with disabilities may request academic accommodations, housing and dining accommodations, modifications to University processes and various other adjustments. The University also provides support services to address the physical and mental health needs of students while on campus, as well as policies for student leaves of absence.

"Princeton has worked for years to make the University more accessible to and supportive of students with disabilities," Minter said. "The Department of Justice agreement focuses on better explaining what we are doing. This is an opportunity to re-stress and raise the profile of policies we have in place."

The University established a disability services office nearly a decade ago, and the office is expanding its staff and programs. In the spring semester, ODS plans to open a new space in Frist Campus Center (the "AccessAbility Center") to foster discussions and programs around diverse types of disabilities, as well as provide resources and study spaces for students with disabilities.

"The Office of Disabilities Services does a remarkable job in coordinating support and accommodations for students with disabilities, including physical, mental health or temporary disabilities," Minter said. "We offer a very customized program that focuses on the needs of individual students."

Senior Associate Dean of the College Claire Fowler said the advising staffs in the residential colleges also are an important resource for students with disabilities.

"We are very fortunate the University has dedicated staff in the residential colleges who work with all students to help them figure out how to make the most of a Princeton education," Fowler said. "In the case of students with disabilities, residential college deans work in close collaboration with Disability Services and academic departments to ensure appropriate accommodations may be made so students receive access to the full academic experience and feel supported in the process."

Calvin Chin, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at University Health Services, said his department continually works to improve how CPS supports students, including those with mental health disabilities. For example:

  • A new CPS program during orientations for incoming undergraduate and graduate students focuses on self-care and prioritizing mental health.
  • Online appointment scheduling is available for counseling services.
  • The forms for students on leave for mental health reasons who want to return to campus have been simplified.
  • There is increasing coordination with ODS to ensure students with mental health disabilities are aware of the array of resources for them on campus.

Students may find information on University policies and practices regarding individuals with disabilities on the websites of Inclusive Princeton, Undergraduate Announcement, Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, and the Office of Disability Services, among others. Consistent with the DOJ agreement, the University will clarify some information regarding policies and practices for reasonable accommodations and student leaves of absence. The University also will provide additional training to staff involved with student requests related to disabilities.

"We have been doing a lot of work to make the language of our policies clearer and more transparent for students so they understand, for example, what it means to take a leave of absence from Princeton," Fowler said. "We want to continue to refine our language so the University's policies and practices are clear to students."