In this winter’s endless snowy mornings, many early bird commuters benefit from freshly cleared walkways throughout campus. While most are grateful just to keep their feet dry, for others the cleared paths are a necessity. Illinois State University’s Department of Disability Concerns mandates the designated snow removal, officially termed snow map routes, which must be cleared before 8 a.m. to allow students with disabilities to safely and independently commute to class.
Disability Concerns is Illinois State’s designated office to accommodate students and guests with disabilities while ensuring legal compliance. Universities are mandated to provide accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAA) and Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA), a new law requiring Web sites, systems and other information technology accessibility to people with disabilities. All services are fully funded by the University.
“We have such a broad spectrum of disabilities, there’s no such question as ‘for what type of disabilities do you provide services?’ The answer is everyone,” said Director Ann Caldwell.
University guests may require a sign language interpreter for Bone Student Center speakers or other events. Students who have visual disabilities may receive printed materials in alternate formats. Students may use enlarged print, electronic text, Braille or screen enlargement for computer use. Faculty can assist students with visual disabilities in their class by clearly vocalizing what is being written on a board or projected onto a screen.
Audio FM systems assist students who are hard of hearing by feeding a professor’s voice directly into a student’s hearing aid using a specialized microphone and receiver. Hearing aids are designed to make everything louder, so a speaker’s voice in a classroom can be lost among the background noise. Use of the FM system improves this. For students who are deaf, sign language interpreters are available. Disability Concerns adds closed captioning to classroom videos, so students who are deaf have access to the audio portion of a video.
Caldwell explains that there are disabilities that aren’t obvious and can often be the most difficult to recognize and understand.
“Take an individual who is diabetic, for example,” Caldwell said. “Many people don’t view this as a disability, but the individuals may need a certain food or beverage that isn’t normally allowed in a classroom, but is necessary to regulate blood sugar. Another example is individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome who are intellectually high functioning, but have difficulty with social interactions. Classrooms activities and residence halls can be difficult. As an example, if beneficial for the student, we can work with the professor to allow that student the ability to leave the classroom on a temporary basis if they start to feel overwhelmed.”
“A student is recognized as an individual, so Disability Concerns is not a cookie cutter operation,” explained Caldwell. “For example, the needs of each wheelchair user can be very different. You might be a person who uses a motorized wheelchair or you might use a manual-racing wheelchair due to the type of disability. Both have very different needs. Students with learning disabilities have different accommodation needs than students with Attention Deficit Disorder. Students with traumatic brain injury have different accommodation needs than students with cancer.”
Because every disability is different, each disability is treated on a case-by-case basis.
To become a client, a student with a disability must self-identify to Disability Concerns. Only then can Disability Concerns swing into action. Once a student requests services, they are asked to complete a Request for Services form and must provide documentation of their disability. Disability Concerns does not provide testing for a disability; the appropriate professional must provide documentation. The Documentation Review Committee then reviews that documentation to verify the disability, its impact on the individual and recommended accommodations. The student then completes the intake process with a coordinator and receives a Disability Concerns ID card. The student is then to show the ID card to faculty and have an open conversation to discuss accommodations that they will be using for that class.
It is important that faculty do not provide accommodations to students without the Disability Concerns ID card. Instead, they should refer the student to Disability Concerns so it can be determined if he or she is eligible for disability accommodation.
If a faculty member recognizes that a student is having difficulty in class and suspects that the student may have a disability, that faculty member cannot ask, “Do you have a disability?” This is considered discrimination and is illegal under the ADAA.
“If we see someone on campus that is a wheelchair user and we know they don’t use our services, we can’t go up to them and claim, ‘I can help you!’ The individual has the right to make the decision to use or not to use our accommodation services,” explained Caldwell.
If a staff or faculty member is worried about a student, it’s best to approach them with open-ended questions.
“I tell faculty that if they have a student they are concerned about, think of them as just that,” said Caldwell. “What would you do when you approached them? Wouldn’t you say, ‘I’ve seen you struggling in classand I’d like to be able to help you out, is there anything I can do?”
When a faculty member engages in conversation that expresses concern to the students, students with disabilities will often become open and reveal any known disabilities. The student may say, “I received services in high school for my reading,” thus alluding to a learning disability. The student may also reveal that he or she attended a special education class while in elementary through high school. At this point, the faculty member should refer the student to Disability Concerns for further assistance.
If the faculty and staff would like to discuss a student situation or have questions on assistive technologies in the classroom, they are encouraged to contact Disability Concerns at 438-5853.
A coordinator that is familiar with that student or specializes in that type of disability will be glad to assist. A list of faculty FAQ’s about Disability Concerns services or working with students with disabilities is also available on the Disability Concerns Web site.