Tucked into the Learning Commons pocket of Tutt Library here at Colorado College is the Disability Services Office. Perhaps it is not as well known as other departmental, admissions-based, gold card, or campus activities offices, but it plays a very important role here on campus. Disability Services is well integrated into our classrooms, our dorm halls, office buildings—just about everywhere; it provides a variety of accommodations for individuals of all needs.
Let’s expand the scope of things for a moment. On a national scale, Disability Services is framed primarily by the American with Disabilities Act, most recently revised and amended in 2010 (its changes to be implemented starting in 2011). New revisions incorporate much of the old act’s framework, but the most recent amendment also stated that the “definition of disability be interpreted broadly, so as to include temporary but hindering injuries.” The division of management within this act is primarily between the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, dictated by the Titles II and III of the ADA Act. Jurisdiction depends on a number of factors, namely whether the domain is public or private. This act has national jurisdiction because it is a civil right; as quoted from the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education: “These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, sex, disability and on the basis of age.”
Colorado College is a private institution. Therefore, it falls under the Title III jurisdiction. The Department of Justice states, “An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” On our campus, Disability Services works within this jurisdiction to accommodate ten percent of the student population, providing services for a number of disabilities such as ADD, ADHD, chronic health conditions, mobile impairments, psychological disorders, visual impairments, and hearing impairments.
Rumors exist on campus that accommodations are easy to “acquire.” One student who is currently registered through Disability Services strongly backed this sentiment, saying, “I’ve heard comments myself, and I agree with some of them. Accommodations are absolutely necessary for some, but for others they could be regarded more as convenient or comfortable. They’re helpful. These days it’s ridiculously easy to go get diagnosed, assessed, and be on your way to receiving accommodations.”
How does a student go about registering and working towards receiving accommodations? As the CC website will tell you, students have to: fill out the “Request for Disability Services Form,” provide documentation (such as medical records, assessment records, or any other applicable analyses), and schedule an appointment with Jan Edwards to talk about past accommodations, expectations, and how the disability will affect his/her CC educational experience. It’s hard to gauge whether this process is “easy”, especially coming from the perspective of someone that has not undergone the process himself. I went on to interview a total of four students and five professors in order to probe further into the classroom side of this issue.
Most interviewed students seemed to be in agreement that Disability Services plays a necessary and important role on campus (the only student not in agreement being the student, mentioned earlier, who addressed the rumors about the ease with which students can receive accommodations). When asked about any potential drawbacks to the service, students mentioned the possibility of Disability Services accommodations singling out students. But all concluded that, in their experience, they have never witnessed this phenomenon, and reverted back to the initial conclusion that Disability Services is necessary and important.
Part of the rumor surrounding Disability Services is professors’ dislike of the service, but interviews of professors in the chemistry, biology, economics, sociology, and Spanish departments revealed no such feelings. Each and every professor described their experiences with students with disabilities and the Disability Services program as positive; moreover, all five professors saw their experiences as a necessary, but not troubling responsibility.
A member of the chemistry department explained, “I generally incorporate and consider these accommodations for students ahead of time. Instead of tackling the situation after I’ve waited for it to happen, I try and build into my curriculum the flexibility that students experiencing disability need.”
Even in differently structured classes, with labs, pop quizzes, and timed exercises, it seems as though most professors don’t have difficulty. When all five professors were asked to comment on whether, in their experience, they had ever heard of or had a student approach them about these issues because of disagreement or dissent, none were able to recall a single encounter.
What does this say about Disability Services on our campus? Perhaps the rumors have paved the way for a necessary conversation about accessibility. The recent amendments to the ADA Act seek to help expand the range of people it can accommodate. While this revision could lead to a rise in unwarranted disability services, we must ultimately weigh the number of people with disabilities that benefit from the service against the immeasurable number we hear rumors about. In the end, Disability Services provides something essential that should be available to all those in need; and we might not be the best party to judge who those in need might be.