10 Staff Members To Meet in College


Before I even started at my university, I had already talked to almost three dozen faculty and staff members on the phone and in person to ensure that I would not have any disruptions in receiving my approved classroom and housing accommodations.  Because of this, I was able to learn what staff members would best help me advocate for myself and that would help me while I was in the classroom or in my dorm.  Here are ten staff members that I highly recommend talking to before move-in or the first day of classes.  Please note that some colleges might have more than one person in these positions.

Disability Services Coordinator

Before I even applied to my university, I interviewed the Disability Services office multiple times about how they handled students with low vision (read more about my questions here).  Luckily, the department is very proactive, allowing students to set up accommodations before any problems sink in, and I was assigned a coordinator that specifically worked with students who were blind or had low vision.  The first staff member I worked with was a wonderful resource and helped me write out an accommodation plan that ensured I would receive all of my services  I can’t say enough nice things about them.  Read more about my experiences setting up a file here.

Assistive Technology Specialist

Assistive technology will be your best friend in college, and it always alarms me when students don’t embrace it.  I was an unique case when I arrived at my university- as one of my colleagues puts it, “most college students don’t come in knowing what assistive technology is, let alone wanting to study it.”  The assistive technology department can help with assessments, scanning in textbooks, and providing access to labs.  Some assistive technology departments also organize testing centers for students with disabilities.

Testing Coordinator

The testing coordinator helps make sure that students are able to take tests, quizzes, exams, and more in an environment where they can receive their accommodations.  Students can be referred to this department either by the assistive technology specialist or through Disability Services.  Testing accommodations are typically written in to the Disability Services file, but some testing centers develop their own student files.  It helps to talk to this person before the first day of classes because some majors may require a placement test for math, foreign language, or English classes.  Read more about my experiences with the testing center here.

Special Populations Housing Coordinator

This person is likely part of the committee that handles the special housing requests, and ultimately assigns students with special housing needs to their spaces.  When I had issues with not being approved for special housing as well as my first housing assignment, this person helped ensure that I received the accommodations I requested, and assisted me in finding an accessible room.  This was incredibly helpful with my housing this year, as I am able to stay in the same dorm room that I did last year.  Read more about my housing accommodations here.

Resident Director

This is the staff member that oversees the dorm building and actually lives there as well.  My resident director has been awesome about relaying important information and is a great person to talk to if there is a problem.  They also have helped me with navigating outside and preparing for inclement weather.

Academic Advisor

Each major has an advisor that assists students with picking out class schedules, and can also assist if there is an issue with the professor.  They also tend to be very honest about which professors embrace having students with disabilities in the classroom, and which professors are more hesitant.  Some departments may have advisors also be professors, while others have one or two people that are full-time advisors.

Student Support Specialist

For students who are apprehensive about a situation or potential situation, talking to a member of the Student Support staff can be a great help.  When I was worried about a situation with another student, the staff listened to all of my concerns and helped me develop a plan to ensure that I wouldn’t have to worry about the situation anymore.  This department usually has a confidentiality agreement in place, meaning that they do not have to report what is said in the meetings unless the student requests that they do so.

Security/Police

I made a note with university police that I use a blindness cane and have low vision, so that they would be able to assist me easier if I called.  I also made a note of what room I lived in on campus so if there was a fire alarm and I couldn’t escape, they would know where to find me.  One of my friends who has a severe medical condition gave police an abbreviated medical history, so they could assist emergency medical staff in administering care.

Student Health

While I didn’t work with them until I had my first visit, having a copy of your medical history and health insurance with the Student Health office can be invaluable, especially if you have a chronic illness.  I have a note in my file that I have Chiari Malformation, chronic pain, chronic migraines, and low vision.  Read more about my experiences with Student Health here.

Mail Services Coordinator

This may seem random, but talking to the Mail Services coordinator is very important.  With my low vision, I cannot use combination locks, so I contacted this person to ensure that the mailbox assigned to me would be one that uses a key.  Another one of my friends contacted them to ensure their mailbox would be accessible to someone using mobility aids that couldn’t bend over.  In the event that it’s impossible to go get mail, you can contact the coordinator to authorize someone else to pick up mail as well- I authorized my resident advisor to get my mail after I was in a car accident, and other friends have authorized me to pick up their mail while they were in the hospital.

While not everyone may need to talk to each type of person on the list, I have been grateful for the resources that each of these people have provided me with.  They all have helped, in one way or another, to ensure that I am thriving in the college environment.

Learning to Self-Advocate

On my IEP throughout high school, one of the top goals was for me to learn to self-advocate.  When I was younger, I viewed this goal as meaning that if I had a problem, it would mean that no one would be available to help me and I would be stuck with dealing with everything by myself.  That was not the case, as I had so many people to help support me.  I’ve learned a lot about self-advocacy, and I hope that I will be able to help others learn as well.

What is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself, as well as learning, building a support network, problem solving, and knowing when to reach out for help. It’s an extremely important skill to have, as there may not always be someone with you when a situation comes up. This skill has greatly benefitted me outside of school, in college, and beyond.

Learning to speak up for yourself

I do not like causing conflict or hurting people’s feelings, so it was hard for me at first to point out that a situation was unfair or that my accommodations were not being followed. In one of my classes, the daily warm-up assignment was never enlarged, so instead of arguing with the teacher every day, I would walk into class and read a book on my eReader until the rest of the class finished with the assignment.

No one can hear you unless you speak up, so make sure to let the teacher know if assignments are presented in a format that is not accessible for you. Also make suggestions on how to make it accessible- enlarging exponents, using different colored pens and papers, digital formats, or anything else you can think of.

Learning

In college, I met another student with low vision that didn’t know anything about the services they received in school. They told me that their parents and teachers handled everything, and they couldn’t tell me what accommodations they received, just that they needed them.

Familiarize yourself with what accommodations you receive. What font size can you read? What color paper works best? What assistive technology do you use? What apps do you use, and on what platform? Do you receive extra time? Are tests in a one-on-one environment? Learning how to explain your accommodations simply and clearly is important.  This information will be very helpful when it comes time to create a Disability Services file in college.

Building a support network

With my IEP, I had three case managers in high school over the course of four years (I attended two high schools). They were specifically picked for me because they were great with helping students learn to self-advocate- they wouldn’t sit there and yell at my teachers over trivial things or constantly hover over me. Instead, they would step in when there was a problem I needed help with. My guidance counselors were also incredible resources, as they would listen and move me out of classes when necessary, as well as be some of my greatest advocates in IEP meetings. In addition, each of my high schools also had an assistant principal who would handle the cases for students with IEPs, and the principal was helpful as well. The central office of my school districts listened to my concerns when situations were too much to handle.

I also had family and friends to help me through smaller situations. My parents, especially my mom, would attend every IEP meeting and help make sure that I was thriving in the educational environment. My parents have always been very encouraging of my goals as well. In the classroom, I also had friends that would help me advocate for myself so I didn’t feel as nervous. In a class where the teacher regularly did not enlarge my work, one of my best friends was always right behind me whenever I went to ask the teacher for my assignments, so when the teacher started telling me that I didn’t need large print, I would feel more confident in reminding them that I do and I would be less likely to back away.

Problem solving

Learning to solve minor problems on your own can be extremely beneficial. I learned how to scan in and enlarge assignments, make documents accessible, and type my own notes when there were no prewritten notes available. This meant that I was still able to participate in class even if my IEP wasn’t completely followed, and it meant my grades were higher because I missed less assignments.

Some posts that may be helpful include my posts on testing accommodations, accommodations for print materials, and what I’ve learned about print disabilities.

Knowing when to reach out for help

In one of my math classes, I had a teacher who did not believe I needed large print, as they assumed my glasses corrected my vision to 100% and it was a waste of their time to enlarge things, despite the fact I had an IEP. I thought I could handle the situation myself, and didn’t tell anyone how badly I was struggling in the class. I didn’t use any assistive technology regularly at that time, so it should be no surprise that I failed the class.

As important as it is to try and handle situations yourself, you have a support network for a reason. It’s important to let someone else step in for situations that involve the law being broken, threats, or when you’ve tried everything you can think of. This isn’t failure to self-advocate though, as an important aspect is remembering when to get help.

————————————————————————–

Self-advocacy is one of the skills that I am the most grateful for. Because of this, I have been able to go on to attend college, confident in myself and my abilities, but still knowing where I need extra help. I will always be grateful for the people and experiences that helped me develop this skill.

How To Explain Accommodations

Welcome! In this series, I will discuss how to start the semester off right, with all of the tools and tricks I have learned. Topics covered will include scheduling, navigation, textbooks, and more. If you have a specific request for a topic, please comment below and I will do my best to accommodate your request. Speaking of accommodating, here is how to best explain your accommodations and Disability Services file to your professors.



First impressions are more important in college than high school. Back in high school, teachers thought they could handle anything and everything, and then suddenly would express their worries about having a student with a disability, after it was too late for the student to transfer classes. Some teachers could handle IEPs and 504 plans really well, and other teachers preferred to focus on the class as a whole instead of accommodating one or two students. Legally, teachers must comply with these plans, but things happen, so students learn to work with it.

In college, professors are upfront about how the semester will go, and aren’t afraid to tell you if they can’t accommodate you. In order to figure out if the professor is open to having a student with a disability, I write an email before the first day of class, as well as talk to them on the first day to make sure we are all on the same page. Here is how I structure these conversations.


Email
– I begin the email by introducing myself by saying my name, my class year, and my major. Next, I inform them I have a file with the Office of Disabilities on campus, and that I also have a 504 plan. Then, I summarize my accommodations as simply as possible, and talk about any assistive technology I use. Finally, I sign off the message asking if there is any textbooks or class materials I need before class begins, as I want to make sure that I can get the materials in an accessible format. Here is a sample email:

Dear Professor Lastname,
My name is Veronica, and I am a sophomore studying software engineering and assistive technology. I have a file with Office of Disability Services and a 504 plan for low vision and testing accommodations. I need materials in a digital format so that I can enlarge them to a font size I can read, and I will be taking tests in the Office of Disability Services testing center. I use an iPad, Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and/or Android phone in order to access digital materials, in addition to my SmartLux magnifier and E-Bot Pro to access paper materials when needed. I also use a blindness cane with a rolling tip when walking to and from class as well as when walking around the room when obstacles are present.
Before the semester starts, may I get the name/ISBN of the textbooks and other materials for the semester? I want to make sure I can have them in an accessible format for the first day of class.
Thank you in advance, and I can’t wait to be in your class!
Veronica

The professor usually replies within a week, if not much sooner, with the textbook information and says they look forward to having me in the class. Some professors don’t respond, so I make sure to include extra details when I talk to them on the first day of class.


The first day of class-
On the first day, bring every piece of assistive technology that could potentially be used in the class (I typically bring a rolling backpack in addition to my normal bag) and read through the syllabus seeing what devices will be needed for future classes. Pay attention for phrases from the professor such as “I really embrace pencil and paper,” “I don’t like electronics in the classroom,” or “I will not allow any devices in the classroom.” If you hear these phrases, start looking for a new class to transfer to. If that is not an option, go to the teacher after class with your accommodation sheet from the Office of Disability Services, or a similar document that simply explains the services required. Try to explain everything in thirty seconds or less, as a long list of accommodations can be daunting. Here’s how the conversation usually goes.

“Hi, I’m Veronica. I have a file with Office of Disability Services for low vision. I need to receive materials digitally when possible. You can email me them at the beginning of class or post them on the class website. I also take tests in the Disability Testing Center. And in icy or extremely rainy conditions, I might be a bit late to class, but I will try to make it!”

Almost all of my professors have been surprised over how simple my accommodations are and are more than willing to work with me. If asked, I also do a brief demonstration of my devices that I use in the classroom- I put a piece of paper under the E-Bot Pro to show it enlarges on my iPad and can’t access the internet or other apps, or I run the SmartLux over a book to show how the text enlarges. I’ve only had one professor who seemed apprehensive over my technology, and I was thankful for their honesty, as I didn’t want a semester of frustration for both of us. I was able to transfer to a new class with a professor, who worked in disability policy prior to becoming a professor and embraced my assistive technologies, especially the SmartLux. It was a win-win for everyone.

This experience highlights another key thing to remember, which is to pick your battles. Yes, you can force people to follow your accommodations, but it may not be the best solution, as it can be stressful for not only the professor, but for you as well. This is especially true in classes that are in the core curriculum/general education requirements (i.e, not your major), as there are always different professors and different classes you can take to meet these core requirements. Find the professor that understands your accommodations and sees how simple they truly are, and that helps you to thrive in the classroom environment. They might even forget you have a disability.

Feel free to link to my posts on the E-Bot Pro, SmartLux, and education apps in order to explain the technologies to your professors. Remember, your disability is not to be viewed as an inconvenience, rather just another component of the student you are.