Students with disabilities have always struggled, so do our disability services really help as much as they can?
Dr. Gregory House from “House M.D.” uses his cane wrong. It’s a small thing to get hung up on, but when I did research in order to buy and use my first cane at 28 years old, I couldn’t help but think back to House – to the representation of disabilities in the media at large. I asked myself if such a popular medical show got it wrong, then who else got it wrong?
In an article done by the Washington Post, Scott Lissner, the public policy committee chair at the Association on Higher Education and Disability, was quoted as saying that experts estimate that 1 in 8 U.S. college students have at least one disability. The problem, however, is that not every college student will tell their college that they’re disabled.
According to a press release in April of 2022 on the National Center for Education Statistics website, titled “A Majority of College Students with Disabilities Do Not Inform School, New NCES Data Show,” about one-third of students who did have a disability while attending college informed their college. That means that two-thirds of the students didn’t tell their college. Why?
Back in 2017, “The Hechinger Report,” which covers innovation and inequality in dedication, released an opinion piece stating that college students with disabilities don’t seek accommodation in fear they will be seen as “lazy” or “unintelligent.” Another fear, from an article titled “Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology,” claims that some students shared they didn’t want to be judged for their invisible disabilities.
Whether invisible or newly addressed, students with disabilities can feel as if they are being judged by others around them. This was certainly my case the first day I used my cane and stressed myself out thinking I was being judged.
With that said, why should students tell their colleges they’re disabled? In the case of our campus here at University of Washington Tacoma, the Disability Resources for Students (DRS) provides accommodations for those with documented disabilities. This can range from providing certain chairs in classrooms for those with physical disabilities to helping students with their World Language credit requirements if they have a learning disability or have impaired hearing or speech functions.
Even if a student does not have a documented disability, DRS is still a worthwhile place to contact to get more information about steps to take to get disabilities documented.
It’s true that in the year of our return to campus following the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, DRS was overwhelmed with emails, calls and requests for aid and services. Wait times for a response could be anywhere from days to weeks. With this the year of our recovery from the pandemic, I decided to see what might have changed for DRS since then.
I was able to speak with M. Mayo, a fellow disabled student on campus, and ask about his experiences on campus. There was a great deal of talk about navigating campus and how easy he found it – or the lack of ease.
“Although with all the construction [getting around campus] has been much harder lately. Even with using ramps and elevators, there aren’t many places to stop and rest. The entire west part of campus is pretty hard to navigate lately. The UW is doing their best but big challenges remain.” he said.
While construction remains a huge challenge for physically disabled students traversing campus, it seems DRS remains in peak form. One of the questions I asked Mayo was how quick DRS was to respond to messages and how helpful they were.
“The DRS on campus is awesome,” Mayo said, “They have always quickly responded to me, and they have always had a great attitude.” When further prompted on how the Tacoma campus treats disabilities and disabled students he had more to say.
“For the most part, UWT has dealt with me in a very compassionate and straightforward manner while simultaneously balancing my accomodations and self-reliance.”
One major problem he confessed to having, however, was the trouble between online and in-person learning. He talked of how some classes would be listed as in-person, but then the professor would switch back to online on some days, which severely ruined the way he learned and how he accessed the class, he said.
While disabled students still struggle on a class-by-class basis, DRS has proven to be a remarkable source in helping students on campus. So while I still have the question of who else got it wrong, I can be assured that UWT got it right.
DRS is in office from Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 253-692-4508.