Bridget Smith is director of Disability Services & Educational Access for the University. After graduating with a bachelor’s in special education, Smith began working at Sunshine School in Searcy where she served elementary children with severe intellectual developmental disabilities for five years. She decided to spend the next six at home raising her own children and then returned to Sunshine School in 2012, this time working with adults. In 2019, she returned to Harding with a desire to give back to the University and to help give students confidence and a pathway to a rewarding collegiate experience.
WHAT ARE YOUR FONDEST EXPERIENCES AS A STUDENT AT HARDING?
I loved my Harding experience. I truly had some of the best years of my life here. I believe in my heart that I could not have had a better collegiate experience anywhere else. Growing up in Columbia, Tennessee, I didn’t even know about Harding until I was a junior in high school. Dr. John Simmons and his wife, Beverly, are good friends of our family, and we went to church with them. They both attended Harding, and their daughter was planning on going, so they wanted me to visit. First of all, I wondered, ‘Where is Searcy?’ As we got closer, I was saying to myself, ‘Where are we going?’ along that flat drive on Highway 64. When I got here, I had the absolute best time that weekend. We got to stay in the dorms, and when I went back home, I told my parents, ‘This is where I am going.’ One of my favorite memories was living in the dorm with my friends. There were two years when 20 or more of my friends were living in the same hallway. It boggles my mind to think how you can meet so many great people in one place and still have such a close connection. Even though I don’t keep in touch with all of them on a regular basis, I feel as though I could pick up the phone and reconnect very easily.
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATIONS AND SERVICES DOES YOUR OFFICE PROVIDE?
Students with documented learning, physical or psychological disabilities are eligible for reasonable accommodations — that can mean classroom or testing accommodations. If a student has a chronic illness that poses a barrier to class attendance, we will work it out so they can still continue in that course as long as it does not alter the fundamental nature of the course or learning objectives. We also are able to help students with accommodations when faced with temporary medical needs. Each student has specific strengths and weaknesses, but we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ I want our office to be a place where students feel at ease and encouraged. I want them to feel empowered and to realize that they have what it takes to meet their full potential. Our mission is to serve these students and ensure they have equitable access to academics and campus life at Harding.
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR JOB?
I always have an initial visit with students, and many times they are hesitant about receiving any type of accommodations. Then they come back later and tell me that how we helped them made all the difference in the world, and the service was a game changer. That is a win. Many students will say they were scared at first but ended up so thankful. Students tell us how comfortable my administrative assistant, Cindi Ingram (’07), and I make them feel. I think that is because the climate we have created together is welcoming and supportive. That is exactly what we are going for. We don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable in our office. It is about educational access. We have to talk about their disabilities, but then we’re moving on to what accommodations are reasonable for them and how we can remove barriers and level the playing field. The cherry on top is when students tell us they were so glad they came into our office. I’m very humbled to be able to do what I do. I never dreamed I’d get to be at Harding serving in this role.