SGSU Pushes For More Disabilities Services Staff

A lack of sufficient staffing in Seattle University’s Disabilities Services has been a continuing issue. To move forward in fixing this problem, the Student Government at Seattle U passed a resolution on Jan. 28 advocating for increased staffing for the department.

According to the campus climate survey data released last year, more students than ever are using the resources provided by Disabilities Services. 779 students identified having a single or multiple disabilities, and according to the Disabilities Services staff, that number is still higher. As this population of students continues to grow, so does their list of needs.

“We’ve really only been able to maintain legal compliance—not the spirit of what the office should be doing for our students,” said sophomore Braden Wild, SGSU’s students with disabilities representative.

According to a survey conducted in 2015 by the Washington Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction, only 24 percent of 5,400 high school youth who identified having disabilities went on to be enrolled in college. As a result, the Washington Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) recently awarded Seattle U’s College of Education $3 million to increase support for students with disabilities transitioning from high school to college.

The two-year contract and its funds will be managed by the College’s Center for Change in Transition Services (CCTS), providing assistance such as coaching and training. Washington’s DVR and CCTS will partner together to help with continued services for disabled youth after they graduate from high school.

Whether any of this money will be used to help fund SGSU’s resolution remains to be seen.

For sophomore Andrea Vlahos, Disabilities Services contributes significantly to her overall success
at Seattle U.

“I think as someone who goes through there, it’s very stressful [not] knowing whether or not you’re going to get the help you need,” Vlahos said. “If they had someone else [put on staff] at Disabilities Services it would be a more stress-free environment.”

The situation has posed a serious problem in the past few years. Rich Okamoto, the director of Disabilities Services and Kiana Parker, the alternative media coordinator at Disabilities Services, are often forced out of their office for long periods of time during finals to give students with disabilities a space to take their exams.

More often than not, students are also forced to reschedule their testing. Acquiring an accommodation appointment or receiving alternative media such as enlarged text or text-to-speech to engage with the content of a class is a process that takes several weeks. This delay impacts students’ ability to succeed.

“If you can’t get your accommodation for weeks, it defeats the point of having the accommodation,” Wild said. “It impacts students coming in, it affects their retention and experience, and whether they can succeed academically up through graduation.”

In order to stay in legal compliance with the demands of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Parker went from working half-time to a full-time position.

“[Seattle U] has built a strong reputation around social justice, and the fact that so many students are registering for Disabilities Services, to me, is very telling about how students are utilizing services,” Parker said. “It’s something that the institution should hold up and be proud of and want to support.”

In light of this new resolution, the Coalition of Students with Disabilities—run by co-presidents Anna Pickett and Taylor Moscoe—has scheduled a forum with Provost Isiaah Crawford and chief financial officer Connie Kanter on March 1 at 12:30 p.m. A location for this event is to be determined.

The forum is purposely scheduled to take place before the final budget for the university is presented to the Board of Trustees. Students will be able to come and express what extra staffing would mean to them, directly speaking to those deciding the university’s budget.

“I think the coalition is vitally important in providing people a space to share a common experience of disability or who are allies,” Pickett said. “This resolution will provide more services to help us get the tools we need to be as successful as possible and to be able to contribute in the fullest way to SU.”

According to Wild, it would be a great disservice and detriment to our students if the university community waits to make changes only to meet legal compliance. Students’ needs for improved, more dynamic resources are evident and continue to multiply.

“I hope that the additional staff person isn’t just seen as a line item in the budget,” Parker said. “I hope that it’s really seen as the potential from taking this office from good or great to exceptional.”

Vikki may be reached at vavancena@su-spectator.com

Vikki Avancena is a junior biology major. She plays guitar and rants about silly, obscure things when words for essays and articles and life fail her. She loves awkward situations and smiles.


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