As one of the first institutions of higher education established in the United States, Brown University's storied campus dates back to 1764. This also creates accessibility problems, however, as many of the historical buildings on its campus have yet to be renovated or retrofitted with elevators and ramps, which "requires a long-term commitment and significant investments in capital projects,” reports The Daily Herald, Brown University's student newspaper.
A faculty member at Brown observed to a reporter that campus-wide inaccessibility sends a clear message about "who Brown wants coming to this University — because right now, it is not physically disabled people." Providence, Rhode Island, was also "recently ranked as one of the worst cities for people with disabilities," according to reporting in The Daily Herald.
In 2021, Brown University reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice for "denying readmission to certain students who had taken medical leaves of absence for mental health reasons from fall 2012 to spring 2017," which violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
Although Brown, like many other universities, has experienced a surge in student demand for counseling services along with wait times of several weeks for initial appointments, in the past few years, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has been able to reduce wait times to 3 days. CAPS also lifted an annual limit on the number of sessions that students could schedule, allowing students to settle into long-term care without having to seek an off-campus provider.
Project LETS, which was started at Brown, has helped to transform Brown University's campus into a model of student mental health support. Priorities moving forward should be improving campus accessibility for physically disabled students, increasing disability-related cultural and educational programming, creating disabled community spaces at Brown, and reducing or eliminating police presence on campus.
In 2021, then PhD student, John Wrenn, conducted an informal count of surveillance cameras on the Brown campus, and found that "Brown University has deployed one surveillance camera for approximately every 18 community members, placing it just shy of London, but ahead of every Chinese city except Taiyuan and Wuxi."
A class action complaint filed Sept. 23 claims that some of the University’s websites, including the athletics website and the campus shop website, violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by not being fully compatible with computer screen-reading programs.
Plaintiff Milagros Senior — who is legally blind and requires screen-reading programs to access web content — claimed she faced multiple access barriers when trying to view information about Brown sports teams and purchase a product on the University’s websites, according to court documents.
The complaint lists access barriers such as a lack of alternative text, invisible code under images that screen-reading software uses to vocally describe graphics; empty links that contain no text and redundant links going to the same URL address, which can have unclear functions or require additional navigation; and multiple pages with the same title elements, which may prevent visually impaired users from distinguishing pages.