Partnering to Provide Services to Students with Disabilities
With a staff of only nine, in the past year Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) served 1,262 students with a range of primary disabilities—including ADHD, Traumatic Brain Injury, learning or psychological disabilities, and hearing, visual, and mobility impairments. None of this work could be done without SSD’s partners on the UT campus, according to director Krista Schutz-Hampton.
Although SSD staff assess and help arrange for the accommodations a student might need—be it sign language interpreting, copies of texts in alternative formats, access to PowerPoint presentations or notes, or preferential seating—it is the faculty who are key players in providing accommodations. SSD also partners with academic advisors in different colleges to address policy questions, pursue the best course options for students, or work through courseload reductions.
“The deans of colleges and schools are such an amazing resource to our office,” says Schutz-Hampton. “We work closely with their offices when we have a student who experiences significant difficulties and needs to pursue an incomplete, courseload reduction or medical withdrawal.”
One result of SSD partnerships with the deans is a new foreign language substitution program within the College of Liberal Arts, which supports students with disabilities. Calling the program phenomenal, Schutz-Hampton explains it was created by Dr. Richard Flores, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts.
According to Dr. Flores, for students with certain disabilities, the college’s non-substitution or waiver policy for foreign languages hurt their chances of graduating with a BA in liberal arts. “We had several discussions with the Equal Opportunity Services (EOS) office about this issue and the difficulty it was causing some students,” he said. Dr. Flores explained that about the same time, he formed the Language Pedagogy Advisory Committee, and this issue was one of the first issues the committee tackled.
SSD staff meet with a faculty liaison—Zsuzsanna Abrams—weekly during long sessions, referring liberal arts students with disabilities who are struggling with their foreign language requirement. The students who have been referred then meet with Dr. Abrams, who assesses the strengths of an individual student’s language acquisition skills. She suggests studying and classroom modifications, and ultimately determines if a cultural course substitution is appropriate.
“If the student cannot complete the coursework due to their disability and despite maximum effort, cultural courses can be substituted for the language requirement,” explains Schutz-Hampton. She says that Dr. Abrams also explores the student’s comfort levels in the coursework, often normalizing the experience of the student with the disability as similar to all students in the class. “This feedback often decreases the student’s anxiety and increases the student’s confidence in the foreign language class, resulting in improved performance.”
Regarding which cultural courses can be taken in place of a foreign language, Dr. Flores said, “We try to match a student’s interest with courses that are available in language courses, Title VI centers, or other departments. The goal is to have an array of courses that provide students with the cultural and historical knowledge that would be useful in understanding another culture.” Since the substitution program was started, about 35 students have benefited.
Other student affairs departments on campus support SSD in their work, such as the Office of the Registrar, the Career Exploration Center, the UT Learning Center, the Office of the Dean of Students, Student Financial Services, the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC), and University Health Services (UHS). For instance, SSD, CMHC, and UHS collaborated to create a uniform process for students seeking a courseload reduction, medical withdrawal, or retroactive medical withdrawal. The SSD and the Career Exploration Center hold at least one career exploration workshop each year and discuss issues such as if or when to disclose a disability to an employer.
As a unit of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, SSD works to help students build on their areas of strength to make academic progress, gain confidence and self-understanding, and learn skills that will transfer into their future work environments.
“Every student comes in with strengths and weaknesses,” said Schutz-Hampton. “In SSD we ask ourselves, ‘what kind of tools can we give this student to help them become the most successful student possible?’ ”
“The College of Liberal Arts is committed to working with Services for Students with Disabilities to support all our students. This collaboration is critical to the continued success of our undergraduate and graduate programs, and is a vital part of the college’s mission.”
—Dr. Richard Flores, Senior Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts
The Clock Awards: SSD Honors 55 Faculty and Staff Members for the 2008–2009 Academic Year
Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) distributes Clock Awards at the end of each fall and spring semester to honor faculty and staff members who go above and beyond the call of duty to help students with disabilities. The awards are in the form of a clock with an engraved message thanking honorees.
SSD Director Krista Schutz-Hampton said, “The Clock Awards give students an opportunity to reflect on positive experiences related to their disabilities and thank others for a job well done.” She explained that the clocks also serve as a visual cue to other students. “When our students deliver letters of accommodation and see the clock in a faculty member’s office, that is a reminder that they have an ally,” she said.
Schutz-Hampton said that faculty and staff members are most often surprised and touched by their nominations. Students often write eloquently about their professors, such as Poonam Dahya, who was a senior in the McCombs School of Business last spring. She wrote of Dr. Robert Duvic, “He has been the most understanding professor I have ever met. He understands that all students are not the same. He is always there to help when needed. He gave me more confidence in school than I have ever had before.”