Student Access Center helps students with disabilities succeed in college

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Andrea Blair, director of the Student Access Center, and Sam Roessler, senior in social sciences chat in Blair's office in Holton Hall on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2014. The Student Access Center is helps students with physcial and mental disabilities access all parts of college life. (Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

For many students, the Student Access Center is nothing more than a term that they glance over when browsing over the course syllabus.

For some, however, it’s an invaluable resource that helps them overcome disability and succeed in college.

The Student Access Center is an office on campus that helps students with physical or mental disabilities access all parts of college life. Whether the disabilities are academic or not, the center provides students with the resources they require to overcome them and prosper for the future.

Andrea Blair, director of the Student Access Center, said there are currently 650 individuals on campus who identify themselves as students with disabilities. Of the approximately 650 students, many have hidden disabilities – meaning the disabilities might not be visible when you meet them.

“Attention deficit disorders, brain injuries, learning disabilities (and) psychological disabilities would be some good examples,” Blair said. “There are plenty more students with disabilities out there, but the ones I know about are the ones who have self-identified. The point is that you think you don’t have someone with disabilities in your class, but you probably do and you just don’t know it.”

Sam Roessler, senior in social sciences, has difficulty with reading comprehension and as such, identifies himself as a student with a hidden disability.

“I read something (and) I can’t remember it,” Roessler said. “If I read a paragraph, I’ll forget instantly. Even if I have my medicine in, I’ll kinda forget it. It’s like a little bit of dyslexia/reading comprehension problem.”

Since his freshman year, Roessler has supplemented his classwork by learning study skills and using the assistive learning technology available at the Student Access Center.

“The key word is access,” Roessler said. “Just having it as a resource has helped me improve on study skills and even though the senior year has just started, I haven’t had to come here so often yet because all the stuff that they’ve given me so far in my college career.”

Eligibility

Qualifying for accommodations through the Student Access Center is quick, yet meticulous.

“Every student that is registered with our office has to provide us with some type of documentation from some kind of medical provider that tells us that there is a diagnosis and what struggles the student is having in terms of that diagnosis,” April Penick, assistant director of the Student Access Center, said.

Students then go through an interview to determine what kind of needs they have and how those needs can be met.

Allison Olive, graduate student in accounting, has a spinal cord injury and is a quadriplegic. Her disability limits the extent of use of her hands. Olive has used the resources at the Student Access Center for the past two years to not only get help with note-taking, but also with examinations.

The center worked with Olive to identify her needs and the staff informed her about all the services they offered. However, she said it would be useful for students to ask for help in the areas they need assistance in.

“They’re not going to be able to help you unless you go there and at least ask if you need help,” Olive said. “They’ll help you and tell you about the different services they provide but you have to go in and say you need help.”

Blair said the hardest part about qualifying for the accommodations is providing the necessary documentation. But once the student provides the information, accommodations can be arranged within a few days.

Help

Help at the Student Access Center can range from physical accommodation, such as arranging transportation from one side of campus to another, to academic help such as extra time during exams, study sessions with tutors and facilitating access to assistive technology.

Penick said the center does everything it can to adjust the environment for disabled students so they can have access to the resources they need.

“I started coming here on a daily basis to meet with Andrea Blair, who would help me with classes I was struggling in,” Roessler said. “On her white board, she would write down study skills and good ways to memorize stuff. April also sends me emails to support me and help me when I need it.”

One of their more commonly used assistive learning programs, called “alternative text,” uses PDF scans of textbooks to read the content to students. The software reads the textbook out loud, allowing students with visual impairments and those with a print-disability to use the resource as a study tool.

“The person who is going to listen can highlight it, bring it into the software so they can listen to the textbook and handouts,” Ann Pierce, adaptive technology and access adviser, said. “We also have this available when they take an exam, so that they can have their text up on the computer with their assistive technology that they’re used to.”

Olive said she uses the alternative textbooks because she can’t travel with the physical books, and the PDF files allow her to access her textbooks on her tablet and online.

Beyond academic help, Blair said the Student Access Center has an agreement with the ATA Bus service in Manhattan to assist students with transportation around campus and with travel to and from class.

“I think that people think it’s just limited to what they have on their website, but there’s more,” Olive said. “They have other resources than those online or what the state provides them.”

The center also acts as an advocate for students with disability, consulting with the university to ensure its students can have access to all buildings on campus and that the software upgrades and purchases made by the university are compatible with assistive technology.

“For instance, we have a student who is blind and for him to have access to K-State Online or Canvas, we have to ensure that the software is created up to code,” Blair said.

Academic code

Despite the accommodations offered to them, students who use the resources at the Student Access Center are held to a strict academic code.

“Every student has to purchase their textbooks, then they have to prove that they have purchased their books,” Pierce said. “They have to sign a contract with us that they’re only going to be using their sources for their personal use. They can’t make copies.”

Pierce said students are not allowed to do anything with the CDs their books are on that conflicts with the student honor code at K-State. At the end of the semester, students are responsible for returning the CDs back to the center.

For the staff at the Student Access Center, success and purpose is defined by students with physical disabilities at K-State going on to achievements in their careers.

“You say things like, ‘a blind person can’t be a surgeon,’ or, ‘a deaf person can’t be whatever it is,’ those days are changing,” Pierce said. “When you have a Google car that can drive itself, you can have a person who doesn’t have sight in the driver’s seat driving that car or flying that plane and all those other things.”

Since his freshman year, Roessler has changed his major a total of five times and plans to graduate on time in December. He said he credits his success to the Student Access Center.

“They really do try,” Olive said. “They’re there to help everybody, whether you have reading or dyslexia or a physical disability of any kind. I think people put it in one spot or the other but it’s a huge wide variety.”

Both Olive and Roessler said the best way to make the most of the Student Access Center is to reach out and ask for help.

“For students out there who have a disability and are shy and don’t want anyone to know about it, just come up here and talk to the Student Access Center,” Roessler said. “They’ll make your college experience a lot more enjoyable.”

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