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Parkland’s Student Disability Services finds ways to assist those in need

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 12:04

accessibleSignage

Photo by Chanelle Stokes/ Prospectus News

New signs containing more information are just one measure Parkland College has taken to help ensure equal access around campus for students with disabilities.

There are a large number of students at Parkland that deal with disabilities every day when it comes to getting to school, making their way around campus or even trying to learn the material; most of which a majority of students don’t have to think twice about.

However, for an every day student with some form of disability, those little things can be the most challenging.

Parkland’s Disability Services office, located in room X-148, serves the purpose of helping any student who has a disability to reach his or her educational goals.

Director of Disability Services Cathy Robinson oversees these efforts, and is assisted by the efforts of Kristen Murray, Nancy Rowley and a staff of student workers.

“The whole process involves having the student submit documentation of disability,” Robinson said. “That documentation is reviewed, and reasonable accommodations are determined.”

That documentation must come from a certified or licensed professional and include everything from an actual diagnosis of the disability to recommended accommodations from that doctor for the particular student. The list of requirements for proper documentation can be found on Parkland’s website under the college resources tab.

The department of Disability Services offers many different accommodations for students in need of them. Some of the more common are extended time for tests, a note taker and sign language interpreters for those with a hearing disability.

Some of the most visible accommodations are the signs all around campus letting handicapped individuals know where accessible bathrooms and areas of the college are.

There are also software programs that assist individuals with writing problems. “Read and Write Gold” is one such program created for students that have deficits in reading or writing. The program teaches the basics of reading and writing through on-screen activities.

Another great software program is “Dragon Naturally Speaking,” which allows students to listen to their tests and dictate their answers.

All of these different accommodations require support. The department’s workers perform many of the tasks but they could always use more help.

“We are always looking for students who feel that they have good note taking skills to come forth and volunteer,” Robinson said. “This semester we were really fortunate to have some students step forward and volunteer their time.”

The department also offers help for those who are hearing impaired. The typical accommodation for those individuals is a sign language interpreter, but that is not always appropriate.

“Not everyone who’s hearing impaired is fluent in sign language,” Robinson explained. “So we determine the best accommodation.”

Another option offered is a captionist, in which someone repeats the lecture word for word so that the text appear on a screen for the student. This is a very challenging job that requires great listening skills.

Parkland student Paulette Johnson is hearing impaired. She has experienced the benefits of Disability Services first hand.

She used to use a headset unit with two parts. The instructor would have the first part, which consisted of a small microphone attached by a cord that he or she could speak into directly while giving a lesson. The device then transmitted to Johnson’s headphones, which made it seem as though the instructor was speaking directly to her.

Johnson no longer uses it because of her new cochlear implant, which is a surgically implanted device that takes the place of a regular hearing aid.

She is also still accommodated with a note taker and extra test time that has really allowed her to be successful in her classes. Johnson said that the accommodations worked really well for her.

“Actually, the staff coordinates with each other and they try to find the best solution for the student. So at that point with all the coordination going on, you can’t lose,” Johnson said.

The Disability Services office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day and performs a variety of tasks despite its lack of size.

They administer testing for students in need of a better testing environment. They provide the environment, which usually has 7-8 students in it at any given time. There are also two computers which students can use to complete their homework in a quieter environment.

Although these resources are available to students, Robinson notes that many have trouble actually coming to them for help because they don’t want others to know about their accommodations.

“It’s important that we help them overcome that feeling of not wanting to use their accommodations,” Robinson said. “We do get students that are embarrassed and feel like if they’re not taking their test in a class then people will know (about their disability).”

“For me personally, some that have disabilities they kind of shy away, don’t want anyone to know,” Johnson added. “But I think that I’m put in a position such that students that have a disability or do not have a disability accept me for who I am, not because of a disability.”

“What we always tell them is, you’ve made it this far,” Robinson explained. “Acknowledge the challenge that you’re having, and let us help.”

Self-advocacy is something that is stressed to all individuals with disabilities. For a student, admitting they need help is the most important step and the Disability Services office will work to provide that assistance to any student.

“We do have a disability and we want the students to know that we’re human too,” Johnson said when mentioning her other friends with disabilities. “And don’t be afraid to step up to the plate when you have a disability. Just go be yourself, you’re no different than anybody else.”

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