Effective July 1, Disability Support Services will change its name to ACCESS, which stands for Accessible Campus Community and Equitable Student Support.
According to Disability Support Services Director Dominic Dorsey, national statistics support that roughly 11 percent of undergraduate students identify as having some form of diagnosis or disability. However, seven percent of these students do not inform their institution of their diagnosis.
“In terms of our current student population, juxtaposed to the overall student population, we’re seeing about 4 percent of the overall student population. So, that means that there’s a remaining 7 percent [of students] that aren’t getting services, that should be.”
“Most of that is because individuals don’t view themselves as having a disability. Disability literally is a word that means ‘broken’. People aren’t broken. Learning isn’t disabled. People just learn differently. So, in order to attract diverse learners and let individuals know there’s a wide variety of diagnoses that can benefit from the services that we provide. We changed our name to talk more about what we do versus the limited aspects and the taboo or othering terminology surrounding who we serve,” Dorsey said.
Disability Support Services has implemented and reinforced additional policies to make testing and providing individual accommodations easier for all parties involved. These changes went into effect in February.
One of the initiatives for Disability Support Services is to make the testing environment as distraction-free as possible. For example, students who use the services or testing centers provided by Disability Support Services will no longer be allowed to bring in food or drinks or use restrooms during exams.
Additionally, students are required to sign and submit their term testing schedule 48 hours prior to their exam. Disability Support Services is also offering extended office hours to students who take evening classes.
“We serve the entire campus, so we want to make sure that the faculty know that we’re protecting the academic integrity of their exams. We want to make sure that the process is seamless for them, and we want to make sure that this is as stress-free for students as humanly possible,” Dorsey said.
Disability Support Services office specialist Michelle Nickerson believes the new changes will make the process of accommodating students’ individual learning needs easier for both students and faculty.
“I think what Dominic is [doing] and where he’s headed is neat. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out in the end. I think it’ll be easier on the staff along with easier on the students,” Nickerson said.
There hasn’t been any significant improvement nor decline in test score results, according to Dorsey.
Disability Support Services has also invested in software that will allow students to request their accommodations and schedule their exams as well as allow faculty to approve the exams and testing schedules.
Junior special education major Hailey Rossman, of Knoxville, Illinois, works in Disability Support Services and looks forward to these new changes. She believes her experience working in Disability Support Services will help in her future career as an educator to students with individualized learning needs.
“I just learned about the different accommodations that come with college and how that’s different from an [Individualized Education Program], so that’s been really helpful with my future career, and it’s been very interesting. It’s been really cool to see Dominic and everything that he’s been doing and like transitioning, since I’ve worked here for like two years now. Everything that he’s doing, I think, is going to be really beneficial as far as electronic things that they’re doing and the plans that are being put in place are really helpful,” Rossman said.
Dorsey and his staff are doing their part to make all students feel welcomed and supported during their undergraduate career.
“We want students to know that we’re here to help them, to remove gatekeepers and make sure that the campus is as welcoming as humanly possible,” Dorsey said.