National survey addresses disability awareness
Academic institutions across the United States attempting to accommodate learning disabilities within their student body employ a variety of means to educate their faculty and bring awareness to their students.
Professors encountering students in need at Biola depend on direction from the Learning Center, which aims to serve students dealing with a broad spectrum of learning disabilities, both physical and emotional or psychiatric.
The National Center for Education Statistics published a survey in 2009 documenting the percentage of universities who encourage students to self-disclose their disability, alongside percentages revealing whether or not these institutions provide educational materials and resources to their faculty and staff who work with students with disabilities.
Biola falls into the private not-for-profit four year demographic of the survey. Efforts to promote awareness of resources for learning disabled students at Biola lend to the 76 percent of fellow universities who reach out to their students, encouraging them to self-disclose.
“Each incoming freshman visits the center with their [Student Orientation Services] group and receives a brochure. Information about the center is printed on the front page of every syllabus of every course,” said Jennifer Roode, director of the Learning Center.
TRAINING AND ACCOMODATION
The Learning Center promotes awareness of its service to students and faculty through a variety of outlets, indicated in the survey.
New faculty and staff members tour the Learning Center during their orientation and hear about procedure and general information, including how to show courtesy to disabled students.
Faculty who request more information about how to accommodate a specific student can talk with the Learning Center’s staff one-on-one to receive guidance and coaching, said Roode, fitting into the 89 percent of other universities providing this service.
Biola faculty are not given further general training regarding how to work with disabled students beyond the orientation because of the specificity of each student case, Roode said.
Information about the Learning Center appears in the faculty/staff handbook, but it does not provide any further educational resources. No annual mailings are sent about disabilities services, Roode said, discluding Biola from survey category percentages.
Students can self-disclose, receive a referral to the Learning Center from another service, such as the Health Center or Counseling Center, or can be referred by a professor.
“Sometimes I get a student that comes in tell me their situation, and they know exactly what the resources are at the center, very proactive. I have others who come to me, but they have not connected to the center, and there are some who I find out about their situation inadvertently, and I tell them about the center,” said Joshua Smith, associate professor of English.
After students come in, their documentation is reviewed.
“I set up an intake session with the student to discuss their accommodation plan, a notice is written up to the faculty, notifying them of the accommodations in place for that particular student. Diagnosis is not released unless requested by the student directly,” Roode said.
This notice is then either hand-delivered by the student in a sealed envelope or emailed from the Learning Center’s office, depending on the situation and need.
GATEWAY FOR COMMUNICATION
John Uy, a deaf junior journalism major, has physical accommodation notices he picks up at the beginning of each semester to give to his professors. Communication Access Realtime Translation captionists now accompany him to nearly every class.
When Uy arrived to classes at the beginning of the semester, professors did not seem prepared, he said.
“After for a while getting used to me and the captionists, some professors reach out to see if there is any way they can help make sure I understand the lectures or make accommodation for some assignments that seem difficult, such as requiring me to listen,” Uy said.
The Learning Center serves as a gateway for communication between students and faculty, providing a medium for encountering barriers in the student’s educational experience.
“I usually don’t make special accommodations for students unless I get something from the Learning Center, I think that’s fair to everyone,” said associate professor of anthropology and intercultural studies Katrina Greene.
In her 11 years of experience working for Biola, Greene says she thinks cooperation between professors and the Center has helped to students.
“Because once I receive something for the Learning Center, it releases me to talk to the student and find out what they need, whether it is an extension on a deadline, etc.,” Greene said.