Director Stefan Charles-Pierre Opens the Door for Campus Collaboration
By: Veronica Pistek
CSA Director Stefan Charles-Pierre is no stranger to being an advocate for everyone part of the CSI community.
As the busy director moves from meeting to meeting in the Center for Student Accessibility, he graces his fellow employees and students with a smile.
Immediately sitting down with Charles-Pierre, it was clear that he was eager to share his thoughts and passion for educating CSI about important CSA issues.
But before diving into his current work, Charles-Pierre shared that he has spent his whole career, over 15 years, working with individuals with disabilities.
“When I first went to college, my idea was to become a physical therapist. I then transferred to another school and went into rehabilitation services and was a college student-athlete. After working in the field along with working at a college, I decided I wanted to merge working in higher education with also working with students with disabilities,” expressed Charles-Pierre.
As someone who works not only as an advocate for others but also a collaborator, the CSA director found himself enjoying his most current work at CSI: to ensure proper campus accomodations.
Across the CSI campus, there are several accommodations and services in place for individuals with disabilities. Some of these services include note-taking, exam proctoring, the LEADS(Linking Employment, Academics, and Disability Services) program a career and academic program, and making sure the campus is accessible to the students.
However, it is Charles-Pierre’s and CSA’s mission to continue to improve the conditions and services on campus for our students.
Specifically, the director emphasizes the importance of awareness. If one becomes more aware and conscious toward others, it truly can make a difference. For instance, if you use a bathroom on campus and see a garbage can or caution sign in the doorway, that becomes a hindrance to anyone with a wheelchair or walking cane.
It would be best practice to remove that hindrance. Professors using closed caption features when showing videos in the classroom is another form of awareness.
Another form of awareness comes through language. Charles-Pierre explained the history of discursive practices in this field. In the past, the word disability was put first before the person.
“It has evolved to become “person-first” because people with disabilities are also human beings, and should be seen as human before their disability. If you are unaware, it is best to always ask how you would like to be addressed,” the CSA director stated.
Along with awareness, Charles-Pierre and his CSA team strives to engage the CSI community to become educated and participate in things going on at the CSA.
“It is our responsibility to always try to improve the services we provide, but the main thing is participation. We want to find ways to have our students and staff help to improve the services that CSA provides, so we have to pay attention to these issues.” Charles-Pierre explains.
Recently, the director has experienced the lack of participation firsthand. CSA provides training for all faculty every semester. However, participation is at a very minimum or no one shows.. At their last training sessions no one was there to receive information.
According to Charles-Pierre, “Nothing is mandatory, but a lot of the training we provide will alleviate the issues and questions that professors deal with on a regular basis, many issues that we handle are already addressed during our workshops.”
Another issue that is felt directly by everyone at the Center for Student Accessibility is the impact of the current budget deficit. Specifically, 90 percent of the staff are part-time, and it becomes difficult to provide students for advisement more often.
For instance, If a student wants to make an appointment with an advisor, they might not be able to see their specific advisor right away. It may take some time because the counselor/advisor do not work certain days or are booked with other student appointments.
In addition, the budget crisis can affect some of the biggest services that the CSA provides–note-taking, exam proctoring, and CART services a service used by students who are hard of hearing.
“Currently, we have about 30 note-takers, and have over 30 students taking classes who need note-taking services–that makes a total of 30 students taking 85 classes. Technically, we would need close to 82 notetakers to be able to match each student in need,” Charles-Pierre explains, recalling details from his ongoing meetings.
However, a notetaker is paid $15/hr to attend students’ classes, and a peer notetaker is paid $75/semester if they are part of the student’s class already. The increase in notetakers would be difficult to implement due to the high cost of labor.
As someone who was previously a notetaker myself, I noticed the difference I made in each student’s college career. Being able to support a student to have the proper notes is vital for their education, it is only right that they have the equal opportunity to receive notes.
Once asked about this issue, the CSA director acknowledged both sides:
“We can’t get upset if students can’t notetake anymore because they are students too, and have their own responsibilities. In fact, we held an Assistive Technology workshop to show students different software that can be used instead of having a notetaker. Technology like OneNote, Sonnocent, and the tape recorder mode or app on a phone,” Charles-Pierre pointed out.
Hopefully, these new software can help CSA cost wise, while also giving more empowerment and independence to each student.
Moving forward, CSA is addressing each issue as an ongoing process. Issues such as the lack of faculty and student participation in training and volunteering, as well as the overall effects of the budget deficit are on the director’s main list of priorities.
“Overall, being educated, participating in campus activities and events that have to do with students with disabilities, collaborating with CSA, and just being aware are all ways in which the CSI community can become involved,” Charles-Pierre sums up.
So as the semester nears the end, students will need assistance for note-taking and exam proctoring during finals. To find out how you can become involved and learn more information, you can visit 1P Room 101, and check out the Center for Student Accessibility webpage https://www.csi.cuny.edu/campus-life/student-services/center-student-accessibility and also their Instagram @csi_student_accessibility.
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