Q&A with Meghan Sellet, Director of the Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) at The College of New Jersey
Interview by Taylor Smith | Photo by Bill Cardoni, cardoniphoto.com
The Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) at The College of New Jersey promotes an awareness of disability by providing learning, social, emotional, athletic, and residential accommodations for students, faculty, staff, and guests. Since her appointment as director of ARC, Meghan Sellet has continued to break down barriers and change definitions of what it means to be “different.” Rooted in social justice, Sellet’s work is at once uplifting and inclusive. All those who are interested can receive services and accommodations through ARC. In fact, Sellet details how the onset of COVID-19 and remote learning has only increased access to special services in a manner that is completely stigma-free and much less stressful.
Please describe what led you to your current work, including your academic background and your own higher education experience.
I accessed reasonable accommodations throughout my K-12 and college experiences. There were points during high school at which my guidance counselors gave me advice about “the best I could do with my future.” This advice didn’t exactly align with my own goals and vision. If I weren’t resilient, that advice would have unraveled me. Instead, I used others doubts as fuel to keep moving towards success. I went on to college to receive a B.S. in rehabilitation services from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Given the large population of students with disabilities at Wright State, I really was able to explore my identity as a disabled woman. For the first time in my life, I saw people like me on a daily basis. It felt so empowering. I played competitive sports at Wright State and was really involved on campus. Once I figured out how to balance my academic, social, and athletic obligations, I felt ready to take on an on-campus job in the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at Wright State, where I was a test proctor for other students with testing accommodations, such as extended time. It may sound silly to say that this job as a test proctor changed my life, but it truly did. From my sophomore year in undergrad to now, I can’t imagine working in a different field. My time at Wright State provided me with the confidence I needed to move on to my next chapter — grad school. When I think back on it, it is interesting how graduate school just fell into place for me.
During my junior year at Wright State, Teri Jordan, my future wheelchair track coach at Penn State, called my parents’ house in New Jersey looking for me. “She’s in Ohio,” my parents said. So, tenacious Teri tracked me down in Ohio, with the hopes that I would consider transferring to Penn State to participate in Penn State’s Ability Athletics program as a wheelchair track and field athlete. Penn State had just become a Paralympic high-performance training camp, and it was a great time to get in on that initiative at the ground level. As it turns out, I didn’t end up transferring to Penn State, but I did complete my undergraduate practicum with Teri in ability athletics. I got so comfortable at Penn State that I ended up staying there for grad school. It was tough and rewarding, and so snowy, but my time there was just amazingly memorable.
Photo courtesy of The College of New Jersey
I ended up graduating from Penn State in May 2006 with an M.Ed. and promptly headed for warmer weather in Arizona and an outstanding professional opportunity. From 2006-2013, I worked in the University of Arizona’s (UA) Disability Resource Center (DRC) where I worked as an access consultant, implementing accommodations for students with disabilities and engaging with faculty around conversations of universal design and overall accessibility. Working at UA gave me the foundation that I needed to move forward in my career, and the view of palm trees on my lunch break never disappointed. After nearly seven years in Arizona, great weather and all,
I was ready to come back home to New Jersey. I missed my family, the East Coast, and pork roll (or maybe, Taylor ham?!). After nearly eight years at TCNJ, it definitely still feels like all of my adventures, experiences, successes, and failures have brought me to exactly where I am supposed to be. As the director of the ARC, I do tend to use my own experiences as a template for working with and supporting others — students faculty and staff alike.
What is the mission of ARC?
The mission is to level the playing field regarding all things access, whether that’s in the classroom, on campus in general, and/or within our surrounding community.
Describe the different facets of ARC and the people it serves.
My staff and I work with literally everyone on campus. There is no menu of accommodations, however, we do meet our community members where they are. We work with students around reasonable accommodations such as extended time for testing, note-taking support, on-campus housing accommodations, and a multitude of other supports. We also work with faculty and staff around workplace and workspace accommodations. While accommodation-related work is solidly linked to compliance, creativity also plays a huge role in our day-to-day interactions with those that we serve and support. We are constantly challenged to think outside the box, which is really cool. Every day is totally different.
FROM LEFT: Lynn Ann Cornell, program assistant; Kyla Tucker, disability specialist; Meghan Sellet, director; Dixita Malatesta, MA, NCC, learning specialist. Photo by Bill Cardoni, cardoniphoto.com
How has ARC evolved to better suit faculty, staff, and student needs during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Oh my gosh, we’ve learned so much, so quickly, during this totally unpredictable time! In March, at the start of the pandemic, we were prepared for a two-week virtual experience — a sprint, if you will. Before long, we realized that we needed to flip the switch to remote learning and engagement for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, and eventually into the fall 2020 semester as well. It’s definitely been a marathon. One of the first things that we did when we moved to a remote setting was to update many of our internal processes to electronic ones, such as the office affiliation, or registration, process. Now, instead of filling out a physical form to connect with ARC, a quick electronic form can be accessed via our website, completed, and submitted online. This update sounds so simple, but it has really improved office workflow tremendously. We’ve become experts in the art of adaptability, which I think is so important in this work as it is, but it is even more critical in the time of COVID-19.
What steps does an individual go through to obtain services from ARC?
With our newly-implemented online process, individuals can log onto our website at arc.tcnj.edu. Under the “Forms” section of the homepage dropdown menu, the ARC affiliation form (for students as well as faculty and staff) can be found, completed, and submitted. Completion and submission of this form alerts the College that an individual is requesting reasonable accommodations on the basis of disability. As part of the affiliation process, supporting documentation from a licensed professional is also provided by the individual. Once these steps are completed, the individual requesting accommodations meets/connects with an ARC staff member to develop an action or accommodation plan, and to discuss next steps. We are flexible with the affiliation process. If someone is asking for support and assistance, that can be difficult. We want to make the connection to ARC as comfortable and welcoming as possible.
Photo courtesy of The College of New Jersey
How has technology helped to eliminate barriers for those with any form of disability?
Never in a million years did I think I would be meeting with students and colleagues from my living room! In just a few seconds, I can log onto my laptop and instantly connect with just about anyone. For many, stress levels are reduced by just being able to log into a meeting or class as opposed to making a trip to campus, and waiting anxiously in an office setting or a long hallway before making your way to where you are supposed to be. Thanks to technology, we’re learning that we’re all more connected and accessible to one another than ever before. If someone is in a virtual meeting, and needs to turn off their camera for any reason, they can do so pretty easily without being noticed. Whereas, in an in-person gathering, it can sometimes be difficult to slip seamlessly out of the meeting.
Please provide some examples of student accommodations that have been made possible through ARC.
One of the most common accommodations continues to be extended time for testing. Other examples of reasonable accommodations include peer note-taking, the provision of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, housing accommodation support, and more. Each student who is connected to ARC has a unique set of accommodations that often evolve over their time at TCNJ.
How many TCNJ community members currently receive support from ARC?
Currently, more than 1,000 TCNJ members are connected to, and receive support from, ARC.
In what ways does ARC support diversity on TCNJ’s campus?
With 1,000+ TCNJ community members connected to ARC, it is important to acknowledge that disability is diversity!
How do you envision the continued evolution of ARC for the fall 2021 semester?
We will keep moving forward, remembering our lessons learned from 2020, which was such an eventful year for our department — the year that our colleagues definitely leaned in and leaned on us for support and guidance. This year, I anticipate that ARC’s visibility will continue to grow, and my staff and I look forward to all that is to come.
Photo courtesy of The College of New Jersey