Celebrating the Work of Jim Wice

Jim Wice poses for a photo. Poster behind him reads The Future is Accessible.
Image credit: Amber Celletti
Author  E.B. Bartels ’10
Published on 

“I am at Wellesley because of a conversation with Jim Wice,” says Chantale Zuzi ’25.

Zuzi, who is visually impaired, looked into the accessibility options at each of the colleges she was considering, and says after speaking with Jim Wice, Wellesley’s longtime director of accessibility and disability resources, she was certain she would be supported and cared for if she attended Wellesley.

“Everything Jim promised me came true,” says Zuzi.

“Jim has made it possible for students who might have had a hard time imagining how they could function at Wellesley College to thrive,” says Sandra Acevedo, student care coordinator at the Stone Center Counseling Service.

Wice retired this month after 23 years of running every aspect of Wellesley’s Office of Accessibility and Disability Resources (ADR). Now, the community is reflecting on the impact of his commitment to making Wellesley safe and accessible for everyone.

“The work in the ADR office requires tenacity, patience, and the humility to learn and gain what we do not already know,” writes Dawn Montagna, associate dean of students. “Over the course of two decades, Jim has been involved in creating a culture that persists even amid difficult moments.”

Since 2000, Wice has worked on every kind of accommodation, including adding ramps and power door buttons to buildings, hiring sign language interpreters for campus events, and figuring out how students with visual impairments, like Zuzi, can take classes such as photography. Zuzi says Wice is always excited to brainstorm ways to improve accessibility for her. “Sometimes I don’t even know what I need! But Jim always knows,” she says, laughing.

When asked about his greatest accomplishments at Wellesley, Wice is quick to demur: “It was definitely not me alone!” he says. But when pushed to come up with what he is most proud of, the list is long: Wice created the first disabilities services office at Wellesley and assembled a comprehensive list of all accessibility resources on campus. He hired a cued speech transliterator as well as two half-time professional sign language interpreters. He collaborated annually with Career Education to provide students and recent graduates with disabilities opportunities to interview for paid internships and jobs with the federal government, and he worked with the Jessie Ridley Foundation to recommend students with primarily physical disabilities for scholarships.

In addition, Wice, who uses a wheelchair himself, is proud to have created the employee resource group for individuals with disabilities at Wellesley College, and to have chaired the Disability Service Providers Committee, now known as the ADA/504 Committee. “The goal of changing the committee was to make it more cross-divisional,” explains Wice. “All that was to get more voices involved.”

And, of course, most importantly, Wice has assisted thousands of students.

“I’m thinking about some students that I’ve worked with,” says Wice, “and situations where if you spent some extra time, you saw them succeed where they didn’t think they were going to succeed.” He would set up weekly meetings with students who were struggling and help them plan out their schedules. “And at some point, they didn’t need me anymore,” he says with pride.

“When I’ve thought about how best to work with a particular student in a particular class and what would help them the most, I’ve called Jim, because I know he’ll give me informed, thoughtful, insightful, practical, generous advice,” writes Raymond Starr, Theodora Stone Sutton Professor of Ancient Greek and Roman Studies and professor of classical studies.

Esmé Krummel ’25, the academic chair on the Students for an Accessible Wellesley (SAW) executive board, worked with Wice on a SAW presentation to faculty about ableism in the classroom. “I appreciate having someone in the ADR office who can really empathize with students on a personal level,” she says. “He understands what we are going through.”

Students are not the only community members who have benefited from Wice’s presence on campus. Kaleb Goldschmitt, associate professor of music, started working with Wice when they needed help navigating a disability of their own. “After talking to Jim, I felt extremely empowered to ask for what I needed. When you’re a junior faculty member worrying about job security, and then you have a disability that comes with a stigma on top of it, it can be scary to ask for help,” says Goldschimitt. “When I was at my most vulnerable, Jim helped me navigate through it.”

Wice’s ability to gently and consistently educate members of the Wellesley community about the challenges faced by those with disabilities—both visible and invisible—has been invaluable. Michelle Maheu, director of planning, design, and construction, says Wice has changed how she looks at every building on campus.

“Jim taught me that full accessibility is a unicorn,” says Maheu, “so you should go into it understanding how we can get the most out of the changes we make.” For example, Wice has pointed out that in the case of singular spaces such as Harambee House or Slater International Center, as opposed to the multiple dorms and academic buildings, it’s important to ensure they are fully accessible so that all students, faculty, staff, and visitors can access their programming. “To see the visual changes to those buildings is rewarding,” says Wice. Though he is always quick to give credit to others: “But it wouldn't have been possible without [the Facilities Management team]!”

“Working with Jim has given me a passion and an advocacy for accessibility that I didn’t have before I came to the College,” says Maheu.

“Jim has done a lot to help the school understand the value of being accessible—not just from a legal standpoint, but from an ethical and moral standpoint,” says Roberta Schotka, director of programs at Wellesley’s Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center (PLTC). Schotka got to know Wice because they were “essentially roommates”—the ADR and PLTC offices are right next to each other—and often they work with overlapping populations of students. “He sets a tone of welcoming and belonging for students,” says Schotka.

“Jim changing the name of the office from ‘disability services’ to ‘accessibility and disability resources’ shifted it to something that was more positive and more respectful, and more in tune with the current climate. It was a small but important thing,” says Jeannine Johnson, director of the Writing Program. “I admire the way that Jim brings people together. He jokes that ‘Everybody knows me, I’m the guy in the wheelchair,’ but Jim remembers everyone. He remembers people and their stories and asks about them, and he identifies people who could help or support or encourage each other, and puts them together.”

Outside of Wellesley, Wice is an active member of the disability rights and accessibility community in the greater Boston area. “One of the things I admire most about Jim is how he is passionate about accessibility, both at Wellesley and also in the wider community,” says Carol Bate, President Paula Johnson’s chief of staff. He is chair of the board of the Boston Self Help Center, a member of the Greater Boston Employer Advisory Board for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, and a board member of the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL), which honored him with the 2021 BCIL Marie Feltin Award. Wice also plays on the Boston Brakers, a power wheelchair soccer team.

Additionally, Wice has been featured in the Boston Globe advocating for improving the MBTA’s paratransit service and on WGBH about bringing volt hockey to Boston.

In retirement, Wice looks forward to playing more sports, taking up watercolor painting again, and learning a foreign language (probably Spanish), while continuing his advocacy and volunteer work.

“I am so grateful to have had Jim’s support. Many students like me have to spend so much time advocating for themselves that it becomes a bigger focus for them than studying. But I can just worry about my classes because I have Jim as my advocate,” says Zuzi. “I hope Jim knows he has made an impact in many lives, including mine. And I hope that he continues to impact more and more lives.

The Wellesley community plans to celebrate Wice’s many contributions to the College and to welcome Wellesley’s new ADR leadership: Bridget Arrow, director, and Rachael Torella, assistant director. Details are forthcoming.