Building the Team: Faculty, Staff, and Students Working Together

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Students are on a busy college campus including a young woman with a white cane and young man in an electric scooter. Richard, a student services coordinator, uses sign language...
[Richard] Everyone... my philosophy really is that everyone is entitled to equal access. And everyone with a disability is entitled to those accommodations that they need for that equal access.
[Karen] I expect that they come prepared to learn.
Karen, an instructor...
My job is to be exciting and to provide interesting lectures.
[Tim] My personal responsibility is to ask for what I think I need that will allow me
Tim, a student...
to learn what the other students learn, and to show that I know what the other students know, and to perform what they perform.
"Building the Team: Faculty, Staff, and Students Working Together". In an auditorium classroom...
[Professor] "One mole of ammonia reacts with one mole of carbon dioxide..."
[Narrator] Their goals are the same. Students want to learn. Professors want students to learn. For students with disabilities, a successful academic experience requires teamwork. Team members are students, faculty, and the staff that supports students with disabilities.
[Karen] I had a somewhat cavalier attitude that if they... that a student with a disability was not going to be that much different. And that if I simply gave them positive feedback, that they would stunningly, immediately, overcome their disability. And that was not realistic. I think what I learned was that I needed to really hear what they were saying, and to be creative.
[Tim] My contacts with professors have been very positive. Either one on one or working through some disability service offices, we've been able to reach agreements on, you know, how to test, how to teach, and that kind of thing. They've been very accommodating when I've let them know what I need, and we've been able to work things out.
[Narrator] Faculty and students have both rights and responsibilities. Disabled student services coordinators have the responsibility to assist them, to help create a three-way team. By working together, the team ensures the best educational experience for all students.
A counselor talks to a student with no arms... Richard signs...
[Richard] I really work with both the faculty and the students, and I feel that they both really need to be involved. To really have a team working there, the faculty also needs to be involved. The faculty has an expertise that I don't, and they really need to be involved in that also. And so, you know, it takes two to tango, it really takes everybody. It really requires everybody's full involvement to make the process work smoothly.
[Narrator] And when the process works smoothly, everyone benefits.
[John] You're going to learn a lot from just interacting with students with disabilities; you're going to learn new ways of teaching, you're going to have a greater appreciation for the problems that students have in approaching difficult material in a course. And this will help you become a better teacher.
[Tim] With the interaction with faculty and student disability services, I've been able to study biochemistry as an undergraduate.
[Narrator] So how does the process start? In college, it begins with the student. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, students with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations.
[Deborah] The student has a right to accommodations, they have a right to equal access. Not additional access beyond what a non-disabled student would have, but they have a right to equal access.
[Narrator] Students with disabilities have to play an active role in claiming that right. Their first step is to contact the office that provides accommodations for students with disabilities, which is sometimes called Disabled Student Services, or DSS.
[Deborah] They are coming to us with their documentation of what their disability is, and based on having that documentation, we then will set up what their accommodations are. It's the responsibility of the student, though, to self-identify with our office as to what they need for accommodations and to provide us with the documentation.
[Narrator] Besides verifying that a student is eligible for accommodations, documentation helps the student services counselor determine what that student might need. The counselor also spends time talking with students about specific accommodations.
[Lyla] They'll talk about what accommodations a student may have used in the past, what kind of classes they're going to be taking in the upcoming semester or quarter, and what types of accommodations the student thinks they're going to need. And then the DSS officer will either supplement those accommodation requests, if they feel that there are some other things that maybe the student hasn't tried that may be beneficial to them; they'll offer suggestions; and they'll come to a consensus.
[Tim] One of the major accommodations I use is, the university provides my class materials, all the handouts that the other students receive on paper, they give them to me in electronic format, so I'm able to read them with my computer, which uses speech synthesis to actually read the material out loud to me. Another accommodation is the use of raised line drawings, which can represent things such as cross sections through the brain, or what another student might see on a microscopic slide. And this helps me understand the same material that the other students might pick up visually.
[Narrator] There's a wide range of accommodations. Here are a few examples. Students with low vision have difficulty seeing small print. Accommodations for them may include:
[Narrator:] Students who are blind rely on oral or tactile alternatives to visual presentations. These include:
[Narrator] Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may benefit from visual alternatives. Accommodations may include: Students with mobility impairments may request accommodations to make classrooms accessible. They may also request some of these accommodations:
[Narrator] People with health impairments may need flexibility in scheduling. They may also need some of these accommodations:
[Narrator] Some disabilities may not be apparent to others. These include learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, psychiatric disabilities, and brain injuries. Accommodations for these disabilities are unique to the individual. These are examples of accommodations often used by students with learning disabilities: Many students develop success strategies of their own.
[Kristin] They're mostly accommodations that I've come up with individually for myself; taking more time to study, outlining my textbooks; using a word processor, spell check, grammar check; just taking more responsibility for talking to my professors, finding out what I need to do to be successful in their particular class.
[Narrator] Taking that personal responsibility is essential for a successful college experience.
[Alyssa Scalise] When I first registered for the university, there was, I remember when I was signing up for housing, there was a little box to check if you had a disability, so my parents and I, we checked the little box, and we thought that that's all we had to do to become registered.
[Narrator] The student must request services from the appropriate office on campus. Once contacted, the disabled student services staff may act as a liaison between the student and the faculty. They may send a letter notifying professors that the student is eligible for specific accommodations. The student is then expected to follow through with faculty- which might take some self- advocacy skills. On some campuses, staff may help students develop those skills.
[Deborah] A lot of times, students come to us without those skills. They're used to having other people advocate for them. So we try to teach them what their rights and responsibilities are, that they need to give, for example, timely notice to faculty, that it's up to them to disclose and make requests; if they never request from a faculty person, the faculty is not obligated to provide a service for them.
[Narrator] Students should contact professors early, preferably before classes start. That gives time to make adjustments, if necessary.
[John Harting] What normally happens is a student will call me or e-mail me to tell me that they have a disability.
[Narrator] Sometimes, accommodations require advance notice. For example, books on tape or in Braille may have to be ordered.
[Melissa] I usually ask them, first of all, what text books they're using in the class, so that I can get them in Braille or on tape; and I also ask them, or tell them, that I will be needing to have tests read to me, and ask them if they can do it in the department, or if they want me to take the tests at the McBurney Center, and then they e-mail me back-I also give my phone number, so a couple of times professors have called me and said, Oh, I'd really like to meet with you, just so we can talk about this more in person, and I'm very happy to do that as well.
[Narrator] Students have the right to choose if, and when, to reveal their disabilities. If they don't reveal them, instructors should respect their privacy and not ask them directly.
[Lyla] They can say something like, "You know, I see you're really struggling in my class, and is there something I can do for you?" Then if the student says, "I'm really having problems reading, I just can't seem to get the information, the professor can refer them to a number of places and include DSS in that list of places.
[Narrator] An instructor can also put a statement on a class syllabus, inviting students to discuss disability-related accommodations. These accommodations do not lower the class content, quality, or standards. They simply help students with disabilities gain and demonstrate knowledge. Faculty members have a right to maintain a quality curriculum.
[Deborah] What we have talked to faculty about is that there is a fundamental requirement of a program. In other words, if the student is unable to meet the curriculum guidelines, it's a fundamental alteration to that program, then we would look at other alternatives for that student here to be successful at the university. At the same time, it is also the requirement of the faculty member to look at other alternatives to assist the student.
[John] Working with students with disabilities, so far, in the 25 years I've been here, I haven't compromised at all. I haven't had to compromise at all. And I wouldn't. I might work a little harder to give a student an extra way of learning something, but you don't have to compromise at all in your standards. Again disability service staff can facilitate communication between faculty and students.
[Michael] They can help faculty think about the essential requirements of their course, in advance of an accommodation request. They can show how to provide commonly occurred accommodations to faculty, so they don't have to reinvent the wheel. They can show you that there are some standard methods, acceptable methods, for providing accommodations that are accepted all over the United States, because they've been there, seen that, kind of accommodation occur before. They can clarify the procedures and expectations for both faculty and students.
[Narrator] Sometimes in order to accommodate a student with a disability a professor may have to make some adjustments in teaching style.
[John] All the students will benefit in the long run because I'm always learning, always working to try to figure out better ways of getting points across.
[Narrator] Flexibility and communication are the tools needed for success. Cooperation between faculty, students, and service coordinators is the key to making it happen.
[Tim] I guess what my story has taught me so far, is that when it comes to accommodations, some patience and some creativity and an open dialogue with faculty and disability services can help to figure out a way around, just about, every challenge there is.
Black and white still image from this video flash by.