Accessibility at Parkland College, Part one: Mental illness and intellectual disability

Brittany Webb

Staff Writer

According to a study done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four students have a diagnosable mental illness. Fifty percent of students have been anxious enough that it led to struggles in their education.

The mission of the Office of Disability Services is “to provide assistance to students in determining, requesting, and using accommodations; to help students understand their abilities, needs, and the resources available to promote their learning, independence, and personal growth; to foster an environment which encourages personal and academic growth and facilitates attainment of their educational goals; and to be an educational resource on disabilities concerns for students, faculty, staff, and the community.”

They work closely with several key campus units for frequent student referrals. They rely heavily on the Counseling and Academic Advising Center for referring students for counseling support and crisis intervention services and general academic guidance.

Cathy Robinson, director of Disability Services at Parkland College summarizes the department’s mission as working in partnership with the greater college community to facilitate equal access for students with disabilities to the educational programs, services, and activities of Parkland College in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Students registered with our department continues to increase and we are currently serving 700 students (reported by the Office of Institutional Accountability and Research at Parkland College). This number includes a range of disabilities with 34 percent of our students reporting learning disabilities as their primary disability,” Robinson said. “The highest percentage of disabilities reported by our students include: 8 percent sensory disabilities, 22 percent with ADD, and 10 percent reporting PTSD or anxiety related disorders, and 7 percent reporting psychological disorders as their primary disability.”

Students are worked with on a case-by-case basis to decide what would help them the most, which includes being referred to the Center for Academic Success and Parkland’s Counseling and Advising Center.

Students can be eligible for services such as extended time in a distraction-reduced environment, note-taking accommodations, or tape-recorded lectures.

“Many students with disabilities do much better on their tests when they utilize their approved academic accommodations and test in the Office of Disability Services. They’re not so distracted by people getting up and leaving, which of course for a person who experiences anxiety, definitely impacts their ability to process and stay on task, and reduces their level of stress,” Robinson said.

In additional to extended time testing, the note taking accommodations help students who have difficulty paying attention while also processing information from course lectures, which enables them to focus their energy on actively learning.

Disability services also offers private room testing for those with anxiety and disorders where a student’s ability to concentrate is impacted on a more serious level. The office works with the Assessment Center to provide private room testing.

Club ACCESS, recently restarted at Parkland, looks for students who have an interest in disability, either with personal experience or because they want to be an ally to those with one.

“It could be an interest-related to physical, mental or emotional disability,” said Dennis Cockrum, a counselor at Parkland College and also the advisor of the club.

Cockrum would like to see more allies with the desire to help other people. This usually includes health professions majors, social work or psychology majors. They are more likely to eventually be working with people with different disabilities.

“The purpose of the club is to provide education, support and reduce stigma to issues related to disability,” Cockrum said. “It has a really good potential to have a good impact as a group.”

If you believe you have a disability for which you may need an academic accommodation (e.g. an alternate testing environment, use of assistive technology or other classroom assistance) please contact The Office of Disability Services, Student Union Room U-260, (217) 353-2338, Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis and are linked to the functional limitations experienced by each student in the college environment.