ASL and Deaf Studies at Princeton

Princeton has taken significant efforts to expand its American Sign Language (ASL) offerings in recent years. ASL was first offered for credit in 2018 through the Program in Linguistics. Beginning in spring 2021, ASL counts towards the fulfillment of the language requirement. I hope the expansion of the ASL program shows the importance of ASL and encourages more students to take the language.

I first learned ASL when I took LIN 205: A Survey of American Sign Language in the fall. This class is for students who do not know ASL and serves as an introduction to the language. It was really wonderful to learn ASL from faculty member Noah Buchholz, who is Deaf and a native speaker of ASL. Now, I can have basic conversations in ASL. Many students in the class had never been exposed to ASL before, but now we all can recognize introductory vocabulary and we understand more about grammar and syntax. I’m also pretty positive that LIN205 was one of the first classes for most students that directly discussed Deafness and disability, and I think students really benefited from learning about these topics.

Now, I am in LIN215: American Deaf Culture, which is being taught for the first time this semester. While Professor Buchholz teaches this class in ASL, students do not need to have any knowledge of the language. Instead, this class is about Deaf culture, as the name suggests, which encompasses history, civil rights, literature and more. It’s so exciting to have a class dedicated to Deaf studies in a way that contextualizes the Deaf experience. I’m looking forward to learning more about Deafness in the past and present.

For years, ASL has been one of the fastest-growing languages taught on college campus today. Additionally, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world, which makes it even more essential that Princeton students with and without disabilities learn more how disability impacts the world around them. In the future, I hope that Princeton offers even more classes about ASL, Deaf studies, and disability studies.

Accommodation and Advocation

Having been recently diagnosed with a disability, ulcerative colitis, one of the main fears I had living on campus was the accommodation system. I had only gone through the process during virtual learning, so witnessing how my illness would affect me on campus was a bit scary. I feared that I would not be getting the accommodations I needed. Considering the cyclical nature of my illness, I feared that the Office of Disability Services would not see my accommodations as necessary. Although I got most of my accommodations, my need for a private bathroom was not met, yet I’ve managed without it for now. 

The fact that I didn’t have certain accommodations that I felt were necessary made me worried about how accessible the campus would be. But, I find that generally, the staff and members of the University are quite understanding of disabilities. For one, my professors have been incredibly helpful in honoring my accommodations. Additionally, the Office of Disability Services is generally very responsive and helpful to meet the varying needs of students with accommodations. Despite the fact that I moved hundreds of miles away from home, with access to my needs more limited, I still flourish. Really, accommodations is about finding out how to work within a system, even if the resources you need are all not there. 


Izabela Konopka sitting on a tree trunk

One of the biggest pieces of advice I would give to incoming first-year students is to make sure your accommodations prepare for the worst case scenario, rather than your present condition. College is a large transition. You can not predict its effect on your disability. Additionally, as long as you have the proper documentation and good reasoning, you should be able to get those accommodations. Another piece of advice I would give is to not be afraid to advocate for yourself. There are many staff who help you advocate for what you need to succeed at Princeton, like our Residential College Staff. Reaching out to them can be instrumental in ensuring you get the resources you need, and knowing that persistence is key. 

Princeton has helped me advocate for myself more, intertwining with my interest in politics. Princeton gives a plethora of resources for those with varying disabilities — you just need to take advantage of those resources.

Nassau Hall and Advocating for Accessibility

I’ve written previously about my experience as a student with a disability at Princeton. While it has its challenges, overall I’ve felt very welcome on this campus. I’m happy to report back, almost two years later, about the ways in which Princeton has become more accessible throughout my time here. It’s taken a good amount of student advocacy to reach this point, but with every student that raises a concern or a hope for the future, the likelihood of positive change increases.

This past August, I became the first person in a wheelchair to enter Nassau Hall without assistance, as documented by The Daily Princetonian. A multi-year project to create a new entrance and install an elevator inside the historic center of campus administration was finally completed. It was incredible to see the inside of the building, including the Faculty Room, where the Board of Trustees meets, and the Memorial Room, which features the names of all alumni who died in every war dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Fun fact: Nassau Hall briefly served as the capital of the United States in 1783 when the Continental Congress met inside of it! I’m so glad that this important building is accessible at last, and it shows that Princeton is listening to students with access needs like myself.

I’m hopeful that the Nassau Hall renovation is only the start of changes to campus infrastructure. There are many groups on campus focused on improving access and inclusion. For example, I’m a member of the Disability Collective, a club for students with disabilities, it’s been incredible to bond with other students who have similar experiences in a world built for people without disabilities. I also co-chair the Disability Task Force within the Undergraduate Student Government. We’ve been working on several initiatives, such as adding more information about disability services into first-year orientation and collaborating with the eating clubs on accessibility training. In addition, I’m a student fellow for the AccessAbility Center, where I plan programs like an annual celebration of International Day of People with Disabilities and stress relief around midterms and finals with therapy dogs and massages. In my last year on campus, I plan on continuing all of these efforts to improve accessibility, so that the next generation of students with disabilities can feel even more included and supported.

The Value of Self Discovery

Sophomore year has been one of personal and intellectual growth. With the help of the Office of Disability Services, I learned that I have generalized anxiety and it became a goal of mine, this year, to truly get to know myself.

Looking back to high school, my only goal was getting good grades, regardless of what mental strife I went through to get there. Through my time at Princeton, I learned that if you come to campus expecting perfection, you will be humbled very quickly. You’ll learn that grades are important but they aren’t the only thing of value here. At a school like Princeton, learning more about yourself and allowing yourself the space to do so is important, not only for your academic growth, but for  your mental health. 

Princeton is a rigorous academic institution, that’s a given, but something that is unique to the college experience is that by getting to know yourself on a personal level it can also contribute to greater academic success. In learning about yourself, you’ll discover your most effective study habits, what ways you best learn, are you a morning or night person, do you prefer to study in silence or with music, can you study in groups or do you need isolation, are you easily tired when reading large texts, etc.? You get to know which professors and students you work best with, which values you hold that are non-negotiable when working with others, how to approach large volumes of work, how to best study for different types of exams, when to rest and take a break, and whether you prefer to work in sections or work to completion.

At Princeton, you’ll also learn the importance of connecting with others and maintaining your own mental health. . It is necessary to go beyond just memorizing information in college; you will learn how to understand, analyze, and apply knowledge to contribute to a scholarly conversation or to progress thought as it relates to you and your unique perspective.  In your junior and senior year, the department you choose to concentrate in, the professors you work with, and the topics you want to research, relate heavily upon what YOU are interested in!

Ultimately, this year, I learned that in seeking academic success, it is important to get to know myself and put myself first. 


Fedjine sitting by a tree

Princeton con una discapacidad

Usar una silla de ruedas en un campus que es tan antiguo como Princeton crea situaciones únicas que complican y enriquecen mi experiencia en Princeton. La Oficina de Servicios para Discapacitados (ODS) de Princeton me ha ayudado al hacer las adaptaciones apropiadas que promueven la accesibilidad y la inclusión.

A través de la colaboración con ODS y Alojamiento, terminé con mi propia habitación configurada para mí. Mi habitación es grande y hay espacio para mi silla de ruedas, una silla de ruedas eléctrica de reserva y una silla de ruedas manual. ¡Incluso tengo mi propio baño que es casi del mismo tamaño que la otra parte de mi habitación! El baño tiene barras de apoyo al lado del inodoro y un banco de ducha plegable. ODS también me dio un control remoto que abre automáticamente mi puerta. A veces no les digo a mis amigos que lo tengo, y piensan que mi puerta se abre por arte de magia.

Aunque mi habitación es perfecta, el resto del campus presenta algunos desafíos. Hay algunas partes del campus que no son accesibles para sillas de ruedas, como los dormitorios de mis amigos con múltiples tramos de escaleras y sin ascensor. Con el tiempo, tuve que familiarizarme con las mejores rutas por el campus para evitar las escaleras. Sin embargo, Princeton me ha ayudado a sortear muchas de estas barreras. Si una clase se encuentra en un edificio no accesible, toda la clase se trasladará solo para mí. ODS tiene un mapa gigante para estudiantes con discapacidades físicas donde pueden dibujar los caminos que toman para llegar a clase, y ODS se asegurará de que estos caminos se despejen primero cuando nieva. Todos los autobuses están equipados con elevadores para sillas de ruedas, pero el campus es lo suficientemente pequeño para no tener que tomar los autobuses con tanta frecuencia.

Naomi in front of metal tiger statue

Principalmente recibo adaptaciones físicas como las descritas anteriormente, pero ODS proporciona servicios a estudiantes con una amplia variedad de discapacidades. Además de las adaptaciones, ODS también promueve una comunidad para estudiantes con discapacidades a través del AccessAbility Center o “El Centro,” un “espacio de reunión de estudiantes en el campus diseñado para el acceso universal y destinado a fomentar la conversación sobre la capacidad, el acceso y la diferencia,” según su página web. El Centro tiene escritorios de altura ajustable, equipo ergonómico de computadora, una caja de luz para el trastorno afectivo estacional y otras cosas interesantes. El Centro también lleva a cabo varios eventos durante todo el año, como descansos de estudio con perros de terapia, conversaciones durante el almuerzo, y masajes. Es realmente un lugar donde los estudiantes de todas las habilidades son bienvenidos.

Animo a los futuros estudiantes con discapacidades a ponerse en contacto con ODS. Me reuní con ellos antes de comprometerme con Princeton, e instantáneamente supe después de la reunión que mis necesidades podían ser satisfechas.

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Princeton With a Disability

Using a wheelchair on a campus that is as old as Princeton causes unique situations that both complicate and enrich my experience at Princeton. Princeton’s Office of Disability Services (ODS) has helped me by making appropriate accommodations that promote accessibility and inclusion.

Through collaborating with ODS and Housing, I ended up with my own room that’s set up for me. My room is so big that there’s plenty of space for my wheelchair, a backup electric wheelchair and a manual wheelchair. I even have my own bathroom that’s almost the same size as the other part of my room! The bathroom has grab bars next to the toilet and a fold-down shower bench. ODS also gave me a remote that automatically opens my door. Sometimes I don’t tell my friends about the remote, and they think my door opens by magic.

While my room is perfect, the rest of the campus does present some challenges. There are some parts of campus that are not wheelchair accessible, such as my friends' dorms with multiple flights of stairs and no elevator. Over time, I’ve had to learn the best routes for me around campus to avoid stairs. However, Princeton has helped me get around many of these barriers. If a class is in a building that isn't accessible, the whole class will be moved just for me. ODS has a giant map for students with physical disabilities where they can draw the paths they take to get to class, and ODS will make sure these paths are cleared first when it snows. All of the buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts, but the campus is small enough that I don’t need to take the buses that often.


Naomi in front of metal tiger statue

I mostly receive physical accommodations like the ones described above, but ODS provides services to students with a wide variety of disabilities. In addition to accommodations, ODS also promotes a community for students with disabilities through the AccessAbility Center or "The Center", a “student gathering space on campus designed for universal access and intended to foster conversation about ability, access and difference,” according to their website. The Center has adjustable height desks, ergonomic computer equipment, a seasonal affective disorder light box and other cool features. The Center also holds various events throughout the year, such as therapy dog study breaks, lunch conversations and massages. It’s truly a place where students of all abilities are welcome.

I encourage prospective students with disabilities to get in touch with ODS. I met with them before I committed to Princeton, and I instantly knew after the meeting that my needs could be met. Feel free to reach out to me as well!