Office of AccessAbility Focuses on Diversity, Disability, and Employment



September 29, 2022 | Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

“I don’t need easy. I just need possible.” – Bethany Hamilton, disability activist

According to the National Organization on Disability, the number of students with disabilities enrolled in college is increasing. The CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD), of which Guttman has a chapter, notes that over 9,000 students with a disclosed disability are enrolled at CUNY. Since Guttman opened its doors in 2012, a higher percentage of students with disabilities have enrolled in– and proudly graduated from– our college than any other college in CUNY. To what do we attribute this accomplishment? Guttman’s intentional application of evidence-based, culturally responsive high-impact practices, our insistence on eliminating non-curricular barriers to persistence, and our whole-hearted institutional endorsement of student-first decision-making take seriously the “I” in our EDI-B commitments. We strive to be a fully inclusive academic community.

Leading the charge since 2012 is Director Crystal Vasquez and her team of disability professionals in Guttman’s Office of AccessAbility. The Office offers many supports for students to reach their academic, social, and emotional goals, including Parent Connect, a parent/guardian forum, reasonable accommodations such as adaptive technologies, and membership in Delta Alpha Pi, an academic honor society recognizing students with disabilities’ high academic achievement, leadership, and advocacy.

As the College listens and responds to the post-graduation exigencies of our alumni navigating the New York labor market and inflationary economy, we are re-examining our programs and practices to increase the number and quality of our academic programs and practices that promote career exploration, readiness, and preparation. For students with and without disabilities, employment provides financial stability, professional and personal growth, social networks, autonomy, and self-respect.

Despite the fact that companies that embrace best practices for welcoming people with disabilities into their workforce yield a “28 percent higher revenue, double their net income, and raise economic profit margins by 30 percent over a four-year period” (, Guttman Accommodations Specialist Marcus Griffith, knew that just one in four U.S. college graduates with disabilities are employed. So, when he learned of Mentoring 4 Impact, a structured mentoring program of IMPACTability that showed positive employment results for John Jay students, he leaped at the chance to introduce Guttman to Pamela Judd, the non-profit’s president.

That was 3 years ago. The pilot for the first cohort through Guttman LEADS (Linking Employment, Academics, and Disability Services) consisted of 8 weekly sessions attended by 39 students with 10 mentor matches. Now starting its third cohort, each participant gets information, counseling, and guidance at the beginner or intermediate level on career concerns entering the workforce. Presently, Griffith works alongside his AccessAbility colleague, Maryanne Sackarnoski, CUNY LEADS Specialist, to connect mentees with LEADS Mentors and “hook them up” with IMPACTability calendar planners and t-shirts, plus a scholarship incentive for students who complete the program requirements. “We’re extremely excited to see that our Office’s enhanced focus on employment has increased students’ internship placements and part-time employment by 40%,” states Vasquez.

All of the Office of AccessAbility’s programs aim to reduce the stigma often experienced by students living with disabilities, especially in the classroom and in the workplace. With the disclosure of disability and self-advocacy being a major hurdle for students, the IMPACTability sessions also serve to strengthen students’ “disability identity,” a positive sense of self and connection or solidarity with the disability’s community. “This semester, says Griffith, “our nine sessions meet weekly on Thursdays during Common Hour from 3:00-4:30 pm. We’ll review various aspects of the job market, ranging from what to wear, questions to ask in an interview, resume building, elevator pitch, and even when and what to disclose about a disability. We’re opening it to all Guttman students who wish to attend.”