This summer, Matt Fisher will celebrate his fifth anniversary at Emerson. As an assistant director in the Disability Services Office (DSO), he and his colleagues work to ensure that Emerson is an inclusive and accessible place of learning for all students.
Fisher said that the DSO works with about 10 percent of the student population, most of whom seek academic and housing accommodations. The office works with students who have a wide range of disabilities such as learning disabilities, psychological-related issues (such as depression or anxiety), chronic illnesses, and autism spectrum disorder.
Many of the students request accommodations for exam taking, including extra time for exam completion and a distraction-reduced environment in which to take an exam. Other examples of accommodations include hiring a peer to be a note-taker in class or requesting that a faculty member alter the attendance policy for a student who has medical issues. The office also provides housing accommodations, such as a single room or a room in a centrally located residence hall.
When a new student visits the office, Fisher and his coworkers have a welcome meeting to learn more about the student, such as the impact of their disability and what barriers they face on campus. Then, the student is asked to provide documentation from a doctor that details their diagnosis and reason for requesting an accommodation. If necessary, Fisher and his colleagues meet with ECAPS or the Center for Health and Wellness for guidance on whether an accommodation is medically necessary.
Another of Fisher’s responsibilities is oversight of a peer mentoring program. Students who are looking for assistance with building social skills and social networks with their classmates are paired with student volunteers, and the pairs meet on a weekly basis.
He is also involved in trainings and outreach for faculty and resident assistants to ensure that they are aware of the resources available to students. Outreach activities that his office is involved in include the Cirque de De-stress during finals week each semester and Autism Awareness events each April. The DSO also co-sponsors a film screening at Emerson as part of the Reelabilities Film Festival, whose mission is to promote disability awareness.
Fisher said that one of his favorite things about Emerson is working with his colleagues. “We all share similar visions and goals for the students,” he said. He is also impressed by the hard work and dedication of students with disabilities at Emerson, as they overcome a variety of challenges to be successful.
Prior to Emerson, Fisher taught middle-school English at Milestones, a K–12 private school in Waltham, Massachusetts, for students with disabilities, many of whom are on the autism spectrum. He has also worked with students on the autism spectrum in the Newton Public Schools and in a residential program for teens.
Fisher is a native of Downeast Maine and graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. While at Milestones, he completed a graduate degree at Simmons College in special education with a concentration in assistive technology.
He currently lives in Somerville and has lived there and in Cambridge since 2003. Playing and watching sports are some of his favorite pastimes. He plays basketball, golf, and tennis, and has run a few half-marathons. The Red Sox and Celtics are two of his favorite teams.
He also enjoys photography, particularly in scenic areas such as national parks. He recently had the opportunity to visit Zion and Death Valley National Parks. And, being from Maine, Acadia is naturally a favorite. He loves all genres of music as well. The Infamous Stringdusters and River Whyless are on his current playlist, and he is looking forward to seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the TD Garden in July.
Nancy Howell (Marketing)