Panel Presentation Summaries

Cindy Bennett speaks on a panel while an interpreter signs behind her.

Panel: Engineering Students and Professionals with Disabilities

Panelists included Nicholas DiChiara, Auburn University; Marie Erickson, North Carolina State University; Kathryn Woodcock, Ryerson University; Daniel Stewart, University of Florida; and Cynthia Bennett, UW.

How has your disability impacted your education or your career?

  • As a result of my learning disability, I took longer to get my degree and my grade point average was impacted, but that’s just something I look past. Since I was diagnosed in college, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it means to have a disability.
  • As a blind person, no one ever told me I couldn’t do anything, but I often set limitations on myself. I chose a major, psychology, that I felt was easier to access than those heavier in math or science. I didn’t apply for internships because I was nervous about transportation. It wasn’t until after undergrad that I realized I didn’t have any skills to live independently. I took a course on living independently and gained more confidence to go to grad school.
  • I often had a hard time obtaining a sign language interpreter, though sometimes I used Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). I didn’t always know I was missing something if someone was turned away from me. I often didn’t get the chance to get to know my professors or teaching assistants and missed out on professional development. These barriers shaped my education and career.

What accommodations do you use and how do they affect your learning or career?

  • I am blind and work with a reader who helps me take notes and get material converted to an accessible format. My reader would often help me make charts and graphs.
  • I used a Livescribe pen and received extra time on tests. It has been difficult to get professors to outline their schedule at the beginning of the semester so that means it is hard for me to schedule private rooms with the disability services office to take my tests.
  • Many of my older accommodations, like extended time on tests, weren’t applicable in my graduate lab—so it became more about me talking it out with others in the lab and finding out what would work best for me.
  • Many of my classes are filmed and streamed online, which is very useful to me. I also test in a quiet place, though sometimes professors try to put me in office rooms with running copiers or bad lighting.
  • It can be hard to get an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter for small or sudden events. Being a guest lecturer is also difficult because I have to ask that they pay for an interpreter to come with me, which can be an awkward situation.

What do you wish educators and employers knew about accommodating students with disabilities?

  • Don’t assume that just because someone has a disability that they do not have as much potential. People with disabilities are often more motivated to continue to work to show their potential or to follow a passion.
  • Faculty often treat me like a chore and make negative comments about my accommodations or my disability. People should realize that I am a person and every person in a class has individual needs.
  • Educators should remove bias from the way they teach and try to incorporate universal design into teaching methods. I had one teacher who typed as she talked and posted all the coding online before class. This really allowed me to follow along as the educator taught. Always teach like you will have a variety of students.
  • As a professor myself, it can be hard to manage when I get multiple emails and letters telling me multiple accommodations. I wish the disability services office sent me one email with a list of all the people in my class, separated by what they needed per test or homework, etc. I also often use universal design in my teaching—and yet via these letters, I’ve had disability services demand I change the way I do something without even knowing all the details of how I teach or what is required.
  • As a student, I hate the letters the disability services office asks I hand out—they are often filled with jargon and include accommodations I may not need in that class. I’d rather meet one-on-one with a teacher or TA to discuss what I’d need in the class.
  • Disability and accommodation are sometimes a discussion of finding the best fit—in an atypical situation, like a research lab, it is much easier to talk about solutions and discuss how I can best use my skills rather than telling an educator or employer I can only work a specific way.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • There are multiple kinds of accessibility issues that faculty should think about.  Some are technical (access to braille, captions, etc), others are logistical (extra time, interpreter, etc), and yet others are social (bias in groups, inequality, etc).

Cost of accessibility is always an issue, and people often judge an accommodation based on cost. What is your opinion on this?

  • We need to reframe the issue to see that accommodations are just a normal cost of business rather than something special. Accommodations should be budgeted for. It’s great if it can come from a centralized budget. If the cost has to come from a departmental budget, it creates a disincentive for any particular department to be welcoming to individuals with disabilities.
  • As someone with expensive accommodations (an ASL interpreter), I have to say, nobody else knows what I know. If people want my expertise, they have to pay for me to share that expertise with others. You can’t put a dollar value on someone’s input into a field or situation.
  • We never look up the costs for other students’ equipment needs. We aren’t providing more for a student with a disability, we are providing them with equal access.
  • Sometimes people with disabilities will get travel approval that doesn’t include travel expenses for a personal care attendant that they need for daily living activities—this ultimately means a person with a disability won’t be able to travel.
  • It’s always hard to measure the cost benefit of an accommodation—it’s a much bigger picture than that. How do we include anyone on an every day basis? Everyone uses different tools and technology and all of these have costs.

The difference between K-12 and college is usually the type of support team a person has. What role does a TA play in helping or not helping?

  • I know people who specify in their accommodations that they need personal time with a TA each week—I think this would be very beneficial, getting personal support from an expert in the class.
  • I feel like TAs are very rarely taught anything about accessibility or disability. This and their busy schedules make it hard to get them on board for universal design or accommodations.
  • I personally don’t think TAs should be involved with my accommodations—they don’t usually know the rules and it is a lot of responsibility to put on a TA who is ultimately at the university for their own education and not mine.

Panel: Supporting Students with Disabilities

Panelists included Brianna Blaser, UW; Jonathan Santeliz, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities; Dan Standage, Student Veterans of America; and Cris Schwartz, Iowa State University.

How do you promote people with disabilities getting jobs and promotions in the federal government? Is there a gap between people with disabilities at lower level and higher-level positions within the government or other companies?

  • This event has given me more strategies for some of these issues. We have retention issues at our agency, where people will get hired but then not supported. Sometimes people hired will feel like an outsider if they’re the only person who is a minority.
  • Recruitment is often focused on in the hiring process, while retention and career building are usually overlooked.

Is there any work on helping people with disabilities learn leadership skills, advocacy, and other similar skills that help individuals build their career?

  • We work one-on-one with students to make sure they learn leadership and self-advocacy skills.
  • We need to frame advocacy as part of the larger institutional change. Students should be involved in the change going on around them and part of the campaign to make those changes.
  • My institution doesn’t have anything organized for these efforts—everything we do is usually reactive instead of proactive.

What is your experience with veterans on campus and their specific challenges? How do you bring disability into that conversation?

  • Anyone recruited to the military gets screened for a disability, and a lot of veterans often have physical or mental disabilities. However, veterans are usually not trained in how to focus on school work, creating resumes, or advocating for themselves, and because of this, almost 50% drop out. We need to teach veterans that they have more resources out there, including mentoring, tutoring, and career building.
  • We need to make sure that disability isn’t seen as a negative, but just a difference, and show veterans and all students that support is out there for people with disabilities.