For over 40 years, Student Access and Accommodation Services (SAAS) at Illinois State University has offered support for students with disabilities and/or medical/mental health conditions. 

SAAS works with students who self-identify their disability/condition, submit the necessary documentation, and follow through with the accommodation request process. 

Some common accommodations offered by SAAS include e-text or braille, seating accommodations, housing accommodations, extended exam time, volunteer notetaker, academic aide, sign language interpreter, scribe, and priority registration for classes. 

The need for student accommodations was first addressed at Illinois State in 1977, when a committee formed to assess the need for disability support. 

In accordance with the landmark federal civil rights legislation Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the committee’s work led to formation of “The Office of Services for the Handicapped” (OSHP) in 1978.

Dr. Judy Smithson led the OSHP and worked as the sole employee for the Office at its conception. One student worker and several volunteers helped OSHP offer services like readers, interpreters, wheelchair pushers, tutors, braille lists, note takers, and maintenance of a list of individuals who served as personal aides.

Symbolizing Illinois State’s dedication to students with disabilities and inclusion, the OSHP was one of the first disability services offices in the nation to be funded by hard money instead of grant money. It operated under Administrative Services. 

After several years operating successfully under Smithson’s leadership, the OSHP became “Disability Concerns” and a secretary joined the team of two employees. 

By the late 1980s, Disability Concerns expanded to include a full-time director, assistant director, and secretary, as well as a part-time secretary and coordinator for students who were deaf or hard of hearing. 

In the fall of 1990, Administrative Services was disbanded and Disability Concerns began operating under Student Affairs. Disability Concerns then moved to Fell Hall, where it resides today. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 led to a new focus on providing accommodations to students. The department experienced an increase in the number of students requesting accommodations but did not receive any additional funding to address student needs.

Director Smithson retired in 1998, promoting one of the assistant directors, Ann Caldwell, to the director position. Caldwell served as the office’s director from 1999 until 2016, when she retired. 

In 1999, the office started participating in the Workforce Recruitment Program, a federal program that provides students with an opportunity to participate in paid and unpaid internship opportunities with the federal government. SAAS still works with the program, and many students have benefitted from the enriching opportunities it offers. 

A year after its initial collaboration with the Workforce Recruitment Program, the Text Conversion Lab was created to meet expanding technological needs. Previously, volunteers came in and read books out loud into tape recorders. Students then received shoe boxes of cassette tapes for their audio books. A full-time staff member took on the role as text conversion lab coordinator. 

Fall of 2005 saw the first scholarships awarded from the office.  The Dr. Judy Smithson scholarship was established for graduate students with disabilities. It continues to be supported in honor of the founder and first director Dr. Judy Smithson.  

The same year, a trust fund provided funds for undergraduate students with specific disabilities. The trust supported scholarships with increasing funds from 2005 to 2018, when they shifted focus to children’s hospitals. Ann Caldwell, the director at this time, established the Will to Succeed scholarship for undergraduates in fall 2010. 

Staffing in the accommodations office, which administers changes to exam and quiz times, changed from graduate assistants and student workers to a full-time staff member supplemented with graduate assistants and student workers around this time. 

The office grew again in 2006 with the first testing accommodations system developed and implemented, called Nexus, which housed all accommodation requests for students who were receiving services.  

As the number of students receiving services grew to over one thousand, Associate Director Tammie Keney was hired in 2015 to take on growing administrative functions within the office. Keney was promoted to the director’s position upon Ann Caldwell’s retirement in 2016. 

In spring of 2016, the Student Disability Network, a registered student organization (RSO), was approved and sponsored by the office. The office also maintains a relationship with DEAF Redbirds and an earlier RSO named ISUABLE.

Additionally, after receiving student feedback about inclusivity, Disability Concerns changed its name to Student Access and Accommodation Services.

Illinois State University purchased a university license for a universal design software in 2018.  The multiuse software combines a screen reader and enlargement option to provide the University community with an accessible educational environment. 

After nearly 40 years under a paper file system, SAAS transitioned to and implemented an entirely digital accommodation system, called the Accessible Information Management system, or AIM accommodation system. This system allowed students the freedom to tailor their approved accommodations to their specific needs for each class, as well as introduced efficiencies in notifying faculty about approved accommodations.

As we begin 2021, SAAS wants to remind students, alumni, faculty, and staff that Illinois State is committed to providing inclusive access to education for all students.