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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.