Student Life Editor
Tucked away in a back corner of Murray Library, in a spot you’d only see if you passed the printing room, is the Office of Disability Services. While some of the campus body have never walked through these doors, for some students, it’s their everyday hideaway.
Disability Services offers support to about 200 students, whose needs range from physical, psychological, and learning disabilities. Some common disabilities across campus are ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities, for which many accommodation services are offered.
“More or less, they’re here to enforce the ADA [American Disabilities Act] portion on everyone’s syllabus,” says Senior Kara Jackson. “That’s the legislation that protects us from discrimination in the workplace or on campuses, and helps us to overcome the roadblocks of our disabilities.”
Jackson is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a systemic disease that causes joint pain and swelling, fatigue and stiffness, and makes her particularly sensitive to colder temperatures.
Her specific accommodations include getting time and a half on exams, because she often can’t write fast or for very long at a time – “sometimes it’s an issue to even be able to grip the pencil.” She also has the option of having a note-taker, or in lecture-style classes, bringing a recorder to class so she can take notes later in her own time.
“Disability Services works with your professors to make sure that you’re getting every help possible, to get a fair shot. The only obstacle you should be dealing with is the difficulty of the class and not your disability on top of that,” says Jackson, who gave the example of one professor allowing her to give an oral presentation for a final exam instead of a written paper.
“They do a good job of making sure you know you can always come to them,” she adds, explaining how their availability enables students to talk to them about anything from stressful course loads to potential ways to overcome learning challenges.
“We have an open-door policy for our students,” says Academic Success Coach and Administrative Assistant to the Director of Disability Services, Tony Devine. “It’s a safe space for them to pop by, and we have a lounge for them to study and ask us questions anytime they need.”
After students turn 18 and start college, they’re legally seen as adults, says Devine, explaining that this can often feel overwhelming for both students and parents. “We’re here to try and bridge the gap and offer them whatever accommodations we can.”
These accommodations can come in many different forms, depending on the student’s specific disability. Typically, Disability Services will coordinate with the student’s professors to give them extra time on tests, procure quieter testing locations, and sometimes provide use of computers during tests. Disability Services also works with students to get E-text versions of textbooks, which combines auditory readings with text-based reading to offset some learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
To make these accommodations possible, Disability Services also proctors exams to allow for extra time, which Devine says can often take an overwhelming amount of time and coordination with professors.
The theme of bridging the gap was one that resonated deeply with the core of Disability Service’s mission and actions. Devine and Amy Slody, the Director of Disability Services, aim to do more than just provide basic accommodations for Messiah’s students. They advocate for academic success coaching, which entails 30-minute meetings each week.
“We use this time to talk about test preparation skills, study habits, and time management. We also go over what’s working for them and what’s not working, and track their organization,” says Devine. “These meetings help us to understand what kind of learner they are, how they process information, and how they are uniquely made.”
The academic success coaching sessions often leave room for counseling and venting, as well as connections to other campus services such as the Writing Center or the Learning Center.
“At the end of our coaching session we’ll say ‘see ya next week’ – but students often stop by a lot more frequently than that,” says Devine.
While Disability Services caters successfully to many students’ needs, Devine says he thinks there may be more students who need their services but don’t necessarily feel comfortable reaching out to them.
“There are certainly some that are off our radar, that may have disabilities but don’t utilize the office, because of the stigma they’re perceiving,” says Devine. “I wish they would know that the stigma is a mental thing rather than a reality. For some, there’s a fear of being looked upon differently or feeling like they want to do this on their own – but we’re here to help. It’s not as scary as you think.”