The Moses Center for Students with Disabilities is an office that is not often brought up in general conversation on NYU’s campus beyond syllabus week, but it is integral in providing students with disabilities the resources they need to succeed in college.
Robyn Weiss, the senior director of the Moses Center, explained that the center serves psychological, learning, sensory, physical and various temporary disabilities. According to Weiss, the Moses Center currently provides academic and housing accommodation for 2,700 NYU students across all schools and campuses, and these numbers have only been growing. The Moses Center has seen a 167 percent increase in registered students since 2013.
Depending on the disability, these accommodations can include tape-recording lectures, using visual assistance technology, having extra time to take exams or using an in-class note taker. The center also helps ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to NYU housing and that their needs are met.
While the Moses Center helps many, some have felt left behind.
Gallatin sophomore Nico Baldwin has dealt with the Moses Center since the beginning of his time at NYU. Baldwin has a learning disability as a result of his premature birth. His disability is not visible, but Baldwin has difficulty writing by hand. Because he was diagnosed in the third grade, Baldwin has ample experience navigating the systems providing services to those with disabilities.
Throughout his first year, Baldwin said he was in a constant battle with the Moses Center over accommodations. He went through rigorous testing in middle school that cost several thousand dollars and was not covered by insurance to document his disability, yet NYU wanted him to be retested in order to access the center’s services.
“NYU did not believe that I had a disability because I had very good academic grades and I had very good test scores, and visually, it’s hard for people to notice that I have anything going on,” Baldwin said. “This guy [on staff at Moses] who saw me for four or five minutes spent the next six months trying to get rid of my accommodations.”
Baldwin is not alone in his issues with the Moses Center. Stephanie Tjoa, a sophomore in Stern, tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee during taekwondo practice at NYU. It wasn’t until one of the head trainers at Palladium Athletic Facility mentioned it to her that she thought she would qualify as disabled and could use the Moses Center’s services.
“I had to take a cab to and from class every day for a few months,” Tjoa said. “[The Moses Center] could give me a one-time reimbursement of $75, so that covers a week of transport, and I was on crutches for at least two months and then again after surgery.”
Tjoa estimates she spent a total of $500 traveling to and from class every day, but the Moses Center could not reimburse her for even a quarter of that. Tjoa said that it was not until she was off crutches and doing better that the Moses Center informed she could have taken a bus that passed her dorm.
Tjoa submitted the required form for reimbursement mid-November of last year, but four months have passed, and she still has not received compensation.
As for Baldwin, a new Moses Center employee has been assigned to oversee his accommodations. But not all his problems with the Moses Center have been solved.
“You walk in [to the Moses Center] and they make you take off your bag, all your clothing [jackets or coats], lock it away, they limit what can go in the room with you,” Baldwin said. “They have a camera in every room that you’re going to be taking your test in. There’s almost this expectation within the Moses Center that you’re somehow going to abuse your accommodation instead of purely just using what should be allotted to you.”
The strict surveillance of students affects those with academic accommodations, like extended time on exams. Baldwin said he thought these stringent standards are harmful to many students, particularly those with test anxiety.
“I’ve [seen] kids who clearly have anxiety problems have near breakdowns in rooms or fits because they weren’t accommodated well and no one helped them,” Baldwin said. “There’s this nervous atmosphere … I feel deeply uncomfortable.”
When asked to comment on these concerns, Weiss wrote in an email that it is important to remember that these accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis.
“Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis taking many things into consideration and students do not always receive exactly or everything they are requesting,” Weiss wrote. “And Moses does not simply revoke accommodations. Some accommodations are temporary, but our Disability Specialists work with students to advise and remind about information needed to recertify.”
Weiss also articulated her support for how the testing accommodations are currently run.
“Regarding testing at Moses, we feel it is important that it be structured,” Weiss said. “It is imperative that each exam administered with accommodations at Moses also be with consistent with the in-class exam administration and requirements. The more structured and organized we are, the more effective the service and a student’s ability to take an exam in a fair, safe environment.”
Baldwin’s concerns were not with specific individuals at the Moses Center, but rather a system which he described as held back by its own bureaucracy.
“I don’t necessarily fault the individual people in the Moses Center,” he said. “I more openly fault the system as a whole and that it isn’t implemented well.”
Given how much experience Baldwin has with the Moses Center, he has many ideas about what could make the system function better. He said a larger staff and increased testing space would help the Moses Center run more smoothly. Additionally, he pointed to making the center more welcoming and transparent in how the system runs.
Baldwin finds it hard to relay this feedback to those within the center. He emphasized self-advocacy as being important for individuals trying to get what they need.
“I’m a big self-advocator,” Baldwin said. “I think being upfront about your disability and saying what you need is very helpful because a lot of people are overwhelmed, and they can’t guess what’s on your mind or what you need.”
Ned Crowley is a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant in the Sociology department. He works to make sure many students get their testing accommodations met.
Crowley made it clear that he in no way sees the Moses Center as inhibiting to the educational process and believes it to be a good resource for students.
“On every syllabus I make from what I teach, I put a resources section that includes everything from like the library, the writing center, but it always has a section for Moses for students who need an accommodation,” Crowley said.
Faye Ginsburg, a professor of Anthropology and co-director of the Center for Disability Studies at NYU, agreed that the Moses Center is an important resource for students on campus. Ginsburg actively advocates for disability rights on NYU’s campus through her work with the Center for Disability Studies and as a member of the Disabilities, Inclusion and Accessibility Working Group.
Ginsburg said that NYU is working on an initiative to ensure all online platforms are accessible to everyone. This means initiatives like making all NYU websites and documents accessible to the visually impaired.
Ginsburg is also working to address problems with the accessibility of automatic doors and handicapped bathrooms.
When asked what NYU students can do to help advocate on behalf of members of the community with disabilities, Ginsburg said that it starts with being aware of how different aspects of daily life impact those with disabilities.
“Pay attention to the legislation,” she said. “[Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos] is pulling apart a lot of the supports that have made people with disabilities able to go to school. Charter schools are notoriously bad at providing education for people that need those kinds of supports so be smart voters.”
Email Darcey Pittman at [email protected]
Correction, March 19: A previous version of this incorrectly said that students at the Moses Center were required to remove their shoes. WSN regrets the error.