Photo Credit: Tiffany-Ashton Gatsby
Attending college can be stressful and challenging for most students. If you’re a student with disabilities, you face additional challenges unique to your abilities. College campuses nationwide strive to meet American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, which include things like elevators and ramps. But not all colleges are meeting the standards required for disabled students to be successful. Disabled students need to ensure they have equitable access to everything on campus in and out of the classroom to be at a level playing field with other students.
While the administrators at Seattle Central accommodate students with disabilities, there is more that can and should be done for the benefit of the student body. I’ve met with several disabled students on campus to discuss the challenges they face on a daily basis and to get input on what changes would benefit the community the most. As a student with disabilities myself, I was also involved in a student-led panel on faculty development day, and I’ve met with staff at Trio and the Disability Student Services (DSS) office to discuss some of these issues. There are several items on campus needing further evaluation, including:
- Ensuring all students are clearly informed about the availability of accommodations for disabilities
- An optional orientation for students with disabilities that is customizable to their needs including mobility friendly routes on campus, if needed
- Relocation of the DSS office to a more accessible location on campus
- Instructor training on testing accommodations, student privacy, and inclusivity in the classroom
- Electronic versions of the Accommodation Request Form that can be sent to instructors prior to the start of the quarter which ensures reserved seating and testing accommodations can be noted and complied with
- Ensuring bathrooms are not closed for cleaning during class break times
- Training for faculty, staff, and students on the use of elevators and handicap restroom stalls – disabled students have priority in these areas
- Ensuring that students using mobility aides can easily get into classrooms and have a reserved seat in the classroom that meets their individual needs
- Install Braille signage throughout the campus
- Install flashing alarms for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to inform everyone on campus of emergencies in a timely manner
The most recent faculty development day at Seattle Central was facilitated by former Seattle Central student, Elliott Grace Harvey. Grace is currently attending the University of Washington and has been working to advocate for accessibility issues impacting students. One motivating factor to facilitate this event was the challenges they faced while attending Seattle Central. Grace completed nine quarters at SCC, partly as they were unable to take more than one class on campus while they were using their wheelchair.
“You can’t get from A to B in ten minutes and instructors don’t give a shit if you have a reason for being two minutes late. I can’t go three hours without drinking water just because I can’t go to the bathroom. Sometimes the stalls are locked or broken or occupied and those ten minutes in between classes are crazy,” said Grace. They also pointed out that using services provided by the DSS office usually requires some sort of documentation from a medical provider, and if you can’t afford to go to the doctor to obtain documentation, you may not be able to to get some of your needs met.
Grace went on to discuss issues with reserved seating. “Furniture is a huge problem. I would be able to take more than one class ten minutes apart back to back in the same building if they are on the same floor and furniture was dealt with ahead of time. I needed reserved furniture 100% of the time. I needed to be near the door and I needed to be able to get my chair into the classroom. Half the time I couldn’t get in the door or I would have to remove people from my spot.”
Four current Seattle Central students with very different disabilities participated in the student panel on February 7th that Grace facilitated. It was exciting to see so many members of the faculty and staff wanting to know how they could better assist students on campus in and out of the classroom. Several topics were discussed, including accommodation request forms, privacy issues, test taking, and group projects. Regardless of the different opinions and experiences each of the panelists contributed, one consistent factor was that all of us experienced at least one barrier to learning at Seattle Central that was not effectively dealt with, and all of us experienced negative treatment in one way or another by students as well as members of faculty and staff. This includes things such as students not making room in the elevator for mobility challenged persons, something as seemingly innocent as inquiring about one’s disability, and blatant disregard for privacy by openly discussing disability accommodations in front of an entire classroom.
Shannon Marie, a blind student on campus that participated in the panel, said that one of the biggest challenges she faces is that other students are not educated about what to do when they cross her path. Shannon uses a white cane with a red tip, which is a recognized symbol of blindness, but many students on campus have not been exposed to that information. Shannon is often bumped into or ignored, which can be challenging when trying to make her way across campus. Paying attention to surroundings is important to prevent hindering disabled student’s navigation around campus. And if you see someone that looks like they’re having trouble, introduce yourself and ask if your assistance is needed. Blindness and other visual impairments can be more challenging to accommodate because textbooks in Braille take additional time to order. Instructors often hand out PDF files, which are stored as images and are not easily converted into Braille nor can they be read by a text-to-voice reader. Compounding those issues with the lack of Braille signage on campus, visually impaired students are immediately put at a disadvantage at SCC.
While there are some challenges at SCC that are structural and difficult to overcome, some departments are working towards affecting positive change where they can make a difference. Cebrina Chavez from the DSS office is working to advocate for disabled students at SCC, including acting as the advisor for the student D.R.E.A.M. Club. Chavez advises that any student wanting information on accommodations should stop in their office as soon as possible. The office is open during school breaks ensuring students can prepare ahead. During the first two weeks of the quarter, students can drop in; otherwise, there is the option to set up an appointment. Chavez emphasized that it is extremely important to check in with DSS early, especially if a student’s accommodations need extra planning or documentation. Some of the services provided by DSS include ASL interpreting, alternative texts including audio readers or Braille, assistance with reserved classroom seating, extended testing times, quiet testing locations, or assistance with anything else that a healthcare provider would consider a barrier to learning. Every student’s plan is different and tailored to their specific needs.
The Trio office is another area where, if qualified, disabled students can obtain additional support. Trio offers counseling services, advising, a private computer lounge, and tutoring. If a student is dealing with cognitive issues or learning disabilities, the tutoring resources offered at Trio can be the ticket to student success. Especially because all of the Trio services, even the tutoring, is free of charge. And if you need help navigating the campus, one of the Trio counselors, Randy Earle, is an expert on helping those with mobility issues navigate effectively. Earle is an advocate for disabled students at SCC and encourages students to speak up and advocate for positive change whenever possible.
While not all of these issues can be resolved overnight, there are things students can do to help affect change. Students banding together can get things done, whether that includes lobbying for funds to install flashing alarms and Braille signage, or speaking up when you see people not making way for mobility challenged students in elevators. You can make a difference. If you ever experience a barrier to learning, speak to someone on campus that you trust to help ensure your voice is heard. Together we can move mountains!