Soyer: Room for improvement in Student Disability Services


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Being a new student in college is an overwhelming experience for everyone. Put having a disability like mine on top of that, and suddenly you are dealing with the stressors of navigating campus in a wheelchair, hiring people to help you throughout the day, and making sure you have all of the accommodations you need for your classes. This is all on top of the usual college stresses of participating in class, completing your homework, and being on your own for the first time in your life.

I don’t mean to sound self-pitying, but there definitely are a lot of other things to juggle. Having a service at the University of Iowa that could help students with disabilities handle these issues would be very helpful.

Fortunately, we have something that sort of functions in that manner: Student Disability Services. Unfortunately, it does not realize its full potential in assisting students.

The main reason for this is that the service provides academic accommodations only. This includes accommodations in regards to exams, taking notes, deaf or hard of hearing accommodations, among many other things. Academic accommodations are what are described in the parameters of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the main laws that universities work under. Therefore, the service works within these boundaries.

While I understand this, it would not be difficult for Student Disability Services to provide students with resources to handle other situations it could deal with. This could be as easy as providing students with pamphlets about different places to go to hire personal assistants, accessible apartments in Iowa City, and information on how to find jobs that are conducive to someone with a disability.

Operating within the confines of the ADA makes sense if you’re adding an elevator to your building to make it compliant. But not providing information and resources because the law doesn’t say you have to is pure silliness.

Marti Slaughter, one of the disability advisers at the service, said that although assisting students with other sorts of nonacademic disability-related problems is not something outlined in how the office functions, she still tries to help students who come to her with questions.

Still, this idea operates under the assumption that students will come to Student Disability Services if they have a problem. This is because, as Slaughter said, universities abide by the ADA, which is different from the law that governs K-12 education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“Under [that act],” Slaughter said, “it is the institution’s responsibility to reach out and assist the student, and with the ADA, that responsibility shifts to the student to reach out to the Student Disability Services office or whatever for that assistance.”

This makes sense for college students, who are encouraged to be more independent. However, students with disabilities may come into college with no idea of how to accomplish some of the basic things they need to do to get through the day, especially if they have lived their entire life before that under the care of their parents.

If they were not even aware that Student Disability Services could help them with this, why would they ask it for assistance? I am not encouraging students with disabilities to be coddled but merely for them to be provided with the resources they need to succeed, resources and needs that are often overlooked.

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