Enhanced process solidifies UAB as leader in disability advocacy

Written by 

solomon champion insideAllison Solomon (left), ADA/504 compliance officer, and Courtney Champion, DSS ADA investigator and faculty advisorUAB is leading the way in regulatory compliance with its new formal process for filing and resolving disability-related grievances. The enhanced process, explained in full on the UAB Disability Support Services (DSS) website, clearly outlines federal regulations within the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the steps to resolve a formal grievance. It also provides protocols to protect confidentiality to address any reported retaliation.

DSS has published a clear, step-by-step process that identifies who to contact to discuss filing a formal grievance, the type of information they are required to provide and the timeline for investigation and decision-making processes. The new procedure was collaborative; it was vetted by stakeholders from faculty, student representatives, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and others on campus, and the feedback was compiled into a final draft.

The team officially began using the process approximately a year ago. In February, it was approved by the University of Alabama System Office.

The goal, says Courtney Champion, a DSS ADA investigator and faculty advisor, is to clarify expectations for all parties involved and provide information on informal resolution.

“It is important to have a formalized process so that each complaint is treated exactly the same, and we can point to the steps we will take each time,” Champion said.

Focusing on transparency

Before this formal grievance process was established, students who wanted to file a complaint would email DSS to request a meeting. What was missing, says Allison Solomon, UAB’s ADA/504 compliance officer, was all parties having a clear understanding of the next steps.

“I would collaborate as needed with other offices on campus or co-investigate with Human Resources and complaints would be resolved in a systemic manner, but there wasn’t an official published policy,” Solomon said.

“We wanted students to see clearly that we take complaints of this nature seriously and that we’ve thought through an efficient and effective way to respond.”

When John Jones, Ph.D., appointed Solomon the compliance officer in 2015, she wanted to enhance the grievance process. Solomon searched for guidelines from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and studied ways in which peer institutions were addressing formal grievances. Those processes varied from institution to institution, leaving UAB to collaborate internally to customize its own system with emphases on shared values such as integrity, respect, diversity and inclusiveness and accountability — each an integral part of the framework that supports UAB’s strategic plan, Forging the Future.

“We have always taken student complaints seriously. We, however, believe the publication of our formal grievance process further highlights our commitment and demonstrates that we’ve thought through an efficient and effective way to respond,” Champion said.

A more accessible UAB

Students with disabilities often are concerned about stigma or retaliation, Champion says. Enhancing the grievance process in this way makes it more transparent and enables the DSS team to support students throughout the process.

“We are able to handle the formal complaints and put time into investigating and fact-finding,” Champion said, “but we are also equipped to handle the student support side of it. Students have the opportunity to seek support from DSS counselors and other staff members who are able to walk them through this process. We’re balancing our roles by ensuring we are serving the institution from a compliance standpoint and also making the process student-centered.”

Solomon says it’s important for everyone at UAB to know each filed complaint is handled precisely and carefully, with fair and thorough vetting. Enhancing and publicizing the grievance process is proof of that commitment.

“We want to make sure students understand we’re here to advocate for them and we have a clear and formal process in place to do that,” she said. “I am also committed to ensuring that any decisions I am rendering in my role as ADA/504 Compliance Officer are given fair and thorough consideration for all involved parties."