July 21, 2022
The Justin Dart Jr. Student Accessibility Center is hosting an open house this week to show off many of the improvements made not only to the center’s building, but also to programs and services. The Dart Center has been adding new staff and revamping how it serves University of Houston students who are disabled.
There will be a special appearance by UH’s favorite mascot, Shasta.
The open house is set for April 8, from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors to the Dart Center can have their photos taken with Shasta, have some refreshments, tour the facility, and hear about some of the changes being made.
Kyle Mutz, who became director of the Dart Center last year, said he’s thrilled with the progress they’ve made to improve and expand services and programs. This open house, he said, really shows off the work done to make the Center’s building more welcoming and student friendly, as well as highlight the Center’s namesake, who is considered the godfather of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“This is a huge honor that our office takes to heart,” Mutz said.
In addition to sprucing up both the interior and exterior of the building, the Dart Center is also planning a number of programming to support the disabled Coog community, including movie nights, a deaf poetry slam, meet the staff events, adaptive athletics opportunities, a celebration of the anniversary of the ADA, and other student-centered events.
“I am also working through my Equity for Students with Disabilities community to work with campus stakeholders to be informed of access issues on campus including, physical, social, academic, and assistive technology for students,” Mutz said. “We are actively looking to engage with our disability community to continue to make improvements and make UH the best it can be.”
Dr. Daniel Maxwell, interim vice president for student affairs and enrollment services, said Mutz’s vision for the Dart Center is exciting to watch come to fruition. “He has tremendous commitment to excellence in the service and programs we provide directly to our students, in our relationships with the faculty, and to the larger UH campus community,” Maxwell said. “Kyle and the team have done some remarkable work in a short amount of time, and the future of the Dart Student Accessibililty Center is very bright."
Mutz is particularly sensitive to the challenges students with disabilities face on campus. Mutz, who has used a wheelchair for most of his life, grew up with a disability. So he is eager to make UH as accessibility-friendly as possible for the Cougar community. If a student is having an accessibility issue, Mutz said, he urges them to call the Dart Center.
“We take pride in working to be a safe environment in which students can share things about their disability and the personal struggles they are working to get through,” Mutz said. “I and my entire staff want students to know they have a home here at the Dart Center. Confidentiality and integrity is something students can be assured to have when reporting an access issue as well.”
Since coming on board as director, Mutz has overseen a number of improvements. In just the past few months, the Dart Center has:
- Hired a new assistive technology coordinator to enhance support for students, the campus community, and faculty and staff.
- Hired four permanent access coordinators to work with students on accommodations requests and access services. A fifth position will be filled soon.
- Hired a new alternative testing coordinator to enhance the process to schedule and secure exams and quiz proctoring.
- Hired a new assistant director for communication access for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Hired a new secretary for the department to welcome visitors.
- Implemented more professional development goals for staff members, who are completing the Green Zone training, LGBTQ+ Ally training, and working with the UH College of Education on disability certifications.
- Organized and is hosting UH’s first-ever Transition Symposium, an event for disabled high school students in the Houston community who are about to enroll into college to come to campus and learn about resources available to them from all University of Houston System schools. It is set for April 20.
Mutz said the Dart Center has also reengaged the Equity for Students with Disabilities Advisory Board, which is made up of representatives from across campus, including students with disabilities. This board is focusing on sidewalk accessibility updates, an ADA audit of parking and transportation on campus, and stressing to faculty the importance of accessibility.
Dr. Suzy Harrington, assistant vice president for student affairs — health and well-being, has been excited at the “tremendous transformation of the entire Dart Center. Their approach to serving students is epitomized by the visual transformation visitors will see at the open house.
“The diverse and fabulous team has shifted from providing ADA support and accommodations to promoting an inclusive and universal design approach so that all students can have the necessary access to accomplish their academic gals and live their best selves, now as students, and later as engaged global citizens and alumni,” Harrington said.
Mutz said the Dart Center has many goals for the future that they will enact as more staff come on board.
“Our team is here actively working to be proactive on accessibility issues across the campus,” Mutz said. “One of the changes we are embracing as a center is the social model of disability, where the environment creates the barriers and not the person with a disability. For course accommodations, one of the main first things is to sign up and register with our center. Students can register through our AIM database, submit documentation for us to learn more about their disability and then be provided accommodations. We are also working to encourage students to be active and involved in our events we are working to create.”
Should a student feel they are not being heard, Mutz said, they should reach out to the Dart Center.
“Communication is key and an important for our office,” Mutz explained. “There are several different ways to provide feedback. I would highly encourage students and others with access issues on campus to email our general office at JDCenter@Central.UH.EDU, their access coordinator, or in the coming weeks a spot on our website. I also have begun working to help start a student organization for students with disabilities that will be housed and advised through our center. This will be a great way for our center and staff to receive direct feedback and creative ideas for student centered events we are looking to create.”