Whether invisible or not, UW frequently seeks to aid disabled students in their journey of education as best they can.
While the Disability Resources for Students (DRS) had their office, located in Mattress Factory 107, closed to the public from Mar. 20, 2020 to Sep. 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the staff and faculty are once more at work aiding students with disabilities to have an easier time on campus and in class.
The DRS is responsible for aiding students with documented disabilities in accessing all parts of campus, providing accommodations for classes or on-campus housing and providing resources that disabled students might require such as Sign Language interpreters, testing aids, etc.
The DRS website at www.tacoma.uw.edu/drs answers questions about the services they provide, what constitutes a disability and provides instructions on how to apply for their services. Students will have to fill out an application and provide medical documentation confirming the disability they are seeking accommodation for. From there, students are able to gain accommodations, priority registration and numerous other resources. As well, the website details to students how to file any discrimination complaints.
Heather Ruiter, the Program Coordinator for the DRS, was available to answer some questions about the program and explain more about what the DRS helps with.
“Students can apply for accommodations for either short term/temporary disability, recovery from surgery or injury, or permanent/chronic conditions,” Ruiter responded through email. She went on to explain that students have confidentiality when it comes to their disabilities and accommodations, so they have full control of sending out Faculty Notification Letters. “If they want to use their accommodations every quarter it takes less than 5 minutes to send out those FNLs notifying their instructors of their approved accommodations.”
Ruiter also explained that things have changed with the pandemic moving students to off-campus instruction. Students who had in-class accommodations found that they didn’t need to use them while in remote instruction. The impacts of their disability also changed with the formatting of the lessons.
“During the first quarter of the shutdown in 2020, the DRS staff of all three UW campuses met virtually to discuss how to best support students in the new environment and address the new challenges it presented,” Ruiter said, “New accommodations were created that directly addressed some of the new challenges of distance learning.”
When asked if there’s anything Ruiter wished for students to know about DRS, she said that many students struggle with invisible disabilities and may not realize that the DRS can support them. Students who have anxiety, depression, PTSD and other invisible disabilities are available to contact DRS and see if they qualify for accommodations or, if needed, can ask how to obtain them.
“The vast majority of students we serve have a qualifying disability you can’t see with the naked eye,” Ruiter said, “Things like severe migraines, autoimmune conditions and so much more. We want students to know that if they are being negatively impacted by anything they might see any kind of doctor for that we may be able to make some accommodations available to them to help address those barriers that are making it harder for them to do the work they are here to do.”
Students can contact the DRS through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 253-692-4508. Appointments can be made online and held through Zoom as well. While there has been an influx in accommodation requests and emails, students are still encouraged to contact the office if they require help. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.