Office of Accessible Education hires Katy Evans as new assistant director

Sally Neugarten

Photo courtesy of Katy Evans.

The Office of Accessible Education (OAE) hired Katy Evans as Assistant Director last month, six months after Ky Gerbush stepped down from the role. As the newest member of the OAE, she will be collaborating with staff, faculty, and students to ensure that the College assists those with disabilities, frequently communicating with affected parties and organizing relevant accommodations. During her tenure, Evans has begun to meet with students and fellow administrators to acquaint herself with the College.

OAE has struggled with a staff shortage since Gerbush left. Earlier this semester, it hired three temporary workers and made plans to incorporate Accommodate, a software program, in fall 2023. Evans encourages students, faculty, and staff who haven’t previously done so to schedule appointments to explore possible accommodation options to ensure accessibility for all. “Folks come to us at all different stages of knowing what they need, and that’s okay,” she said. “If someone’s really at the beginning of figuring out, ‘Oh, I think I might [require] a diagnosis of something, or I think I might be struggling and it has not gotten better,’ just coming in for a conversation … is a great place to start.”

In her new role, Evans hopes to destigmatize asking for help and increase the College’s awareness of the variability in learning present in the student body.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, OAE is responsible for accommodating both mental and physical disabilities and prohibiting discrimination at the College on these bases. If students, faculty, or staff feel as though they are experiencing violations of these laws, Evans encourages them to seek out OAE for support.

Evans hasn’t always worked in accessibility services. She obtained her doctorate in English from the University of Texas at Austin, focusing on Native American and American literature, and then went on to teach college-level literature courses.

In an interview with the Record, Evans said that, while she enjoyed being a professor, she was struck by the lack of sufficient support available to students.

“I loved being in the classroom, but I loved working one-on-one with students more and felt that there was a need to connect more directly with students who were struggling or had additional needs outside of the classroom,” she said.

To provide more direct help to students, Evans transitioned into the role of Director of Academic Services at Bennington College. “Within that role, I became really invested in accessibility and learning about students who were neurodiverse and/or had learning disabilities,” she said. By the time Evans left Bennington, its Student Accessibility Services had greatly increased its reach on campus.

In the classroom, Evans hopes to incorporate the Universal Design for Learning pedagogical principles, which aim to take variability in learning styles into account when designing educational spaces. These would benefit students both with and without disabilities, she added.

Providing captions on videos, for example, is necessary for students with hearing loss to learn. “But it’s also really important for maybe a student who is easily distracted and likes to maybe read and listen at the same time, or for someone who has a roommate who’s a really light sleeper,” Evans said. The Rice Center for Teaching — which aims to help the College’s faculty in their development as teachers — is one route through which the College can create more inclusive curricula, she said.

So far, Evans has been impressed with the College’s intellectual atmosphere. “[Williams] is a place where students take their dreams and goals really seriously, and [it] gives them the avenues to see them as possible,” she said. “Imagination and creativity are rampant.”