Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson welcomes Erin Robins as its first Accessible Design Specialist

Emerson+welcomes+Erin+Robins+as+its+first+Accessible+Design+Specialist
Arthur Mansavage

For over seven years, Erin Robins explored several pursuits in special education. However, she began to feel limited working within the education system and sought to move beyond those boundaries. Seeking a role that could further improve institutions for students with disabilities, she became the Accessible Design Specialist at Emerson.

“I wanted to take another step into a space where I could make bigger institutional impacts in reimagined systems,” Robins said. “I now have the opportunity to think system-wide and with others about how we are creating institutional change.”

The position is dedicated to working across the institution to create a strategic plan for disability justice and universal design. Robins joined Emerson’s Social Justice Collaborative in this role on Oct. 2. The collaborative includes the Elma Lewis Center, Healing & Advocacy Collective, and the Hub for Inclusive Visionary Engagement (HIVE), where she is currently located. 

With a year in the making, the role was created by Shaya Gregory Poku, Vice President for Equity and Social Justice. There was also support from President Jay Bernhardt and other administrative leadership on the hiring committee, including Paul Dworkis, Vice President of Finance and Administration, and Jamie Montgomery-Hyde, Chief Human Resources Officer.

“[The role] was created in response to the clear need to improve our campus climate as articulated by students and external reviewers like Beyond Racial Equity,” Poku said. 

Robins will be working alongside Jordan “Jody” Lome, who was recently hired as Emerson’s first Assistant Director of Accessible Engagement.

“[Both roles will] add to the expertise and overall bench strength at Emerson to increase resources for staff, students, and faculty members with disabilities and support our intersectional approach to equity, access, and social justice,” Poku said.

The necessity of creating this position was underscored by Emerson’s student disability union, Access. Their APS Project: Accommodations Provided by Student Accessibility Services (SAS) created a list of on-campus accommodations provided by SAS for students with disabilities, including access to single dorms and extended time on exams and quizzes.

“It is clear that an organized list of accommodations that is accessible to all is needed so that students are aware of what supports are available to them to facilitate equal access to Emerson’s programs,” Access said in an email to SAS that was posted on Access’s Instagram.

One of Robins’ major responsibilities in this position is to support these needs and provide proper resources for Emerson community members with disabilities.

“Much of this [role] is our response to the needs that have been called to attention by Access as well as a general push to make sure that we’re designing accessible experiences for students, staff, and faculty,” Robins said.

At the start of her career, Robins worked as a special education teacher for Winthrop Public Schools. She primarily taught third to fifth grade and founded a program that helped students with disabilities engage in self-regulation and communication strategies. Almost three years later, she left teaching to pursue a master’s in Learning and Design at Vanderbilt University.

Robins then went on to work for MIND Education, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources for students to succeed in math curricula. During her time there, she aided the development of their ST Math program, designing an elementary math curriculum that was identity-affirming and accessible to all students.

However, Robins quickly realized that as much as she enjoyed teaching, she felt constrained by the education system.

“I was forced to do a lot of things that were replicating systems of oppression,” Robins said. “And as somebody with a disability, I got to a point where I was really wrestling with how I can make a bigger impact to change the system for students.”

After years of working in education, Robins felt the policies that are in place at many different institutions are forced to label students as ‘disabled’ and limit them to restrictive settings. This is a norm that Robins hopes to change at Emerson. 

“There’s this nature where you’re almost forced to teach that middle student instead of reimagining the possibilities of teaching and learning so that all students can succeed,” Robins said. “What I really wanted to do is think about how we were creating opportunities for students to learn [in a way] that affirmed their identity and didn’t position them as other or less.”

Robins plans on taking a social justice approach to her work at Emerson by destigmatizing disabilities within the sphere of education and reinventing spaces to be more inclusive and accessible.

“We’re often socialized into thinking of disability as brokenness within somebody, instead of an asset or part of their identity,” Robins said. “We’re reimagining and rethinking the typical view of disability and designing spaces that are responsive to the variety of people that use them.”

To embark on this goal, Robins emphasized that she aims to work with a wide variety of departments, administrators, and community members across the institution. 

“It’s really important that we include the community in everything we do because that is disability justice work—ensuring that we are amplifying the voices of those who are in the work,” Robins said. “This accessibility needs to be ingrained in everything that we do at Emerson. That means that we need to work on this together as a community.”

Considering these goals, Robins is confident that they can be met at Emerson.

“One thing that’s apparent right away at Emerson is that there’s this will to do the work. There’s this will to create accessible spaces,” Robins said. “I think that’s a great place to start, we have lots of assets and excitement to build upon.”

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About the Contributor
Sabrina Lam, Staff Writer
Sabrina Lam (she/her) is a sophomore journalism major from Manchester, Connecticut. She is currently a Staff Writer for The Berkeley Beacon. Outside of the Beacon, Sabrina can be found strolling on Newbury St. or reading a book in The Boston Public Garden.
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