Access and Disability Services department offers remote assistance to students

Despite working remotely with Pierce College staff during the pandemic, the Access and Diability Services (ADS) department currently offers resources and accommodations for students in need.

“Ideally, no one, regardless of ability, regardless of race, regardless of sexual orientation should have to ask to be invited to the party,” said Hope Stout, the district director of ADS.

Stout continued to say that the reality of equal access requires looking at the learning environment and the barriers it creates, in order to identify ways to provide the same educational benefits for students with disabilities.

Since the switch to remote learning, there’s been an increase in administering testing accommodations with professors, providing emotional support for students and connecting them with outside resources such as the counseling center, TRIO and Aspire. Requests for accommodations such as ergonomic furniture on campus, note-taking services, sign language interpreting services and the proctoring of tests have declined.

Though the ADS department faced a drop in student need due to the pandemic, remote learning has created other challenges for students with disabilities, according to Stout.

These challenges would need to be met through ADS accommodations for students. Students are given personalized accommodation plans based on their ability barriers and learning environment which transfers to the Puyallup or Fort Steilacoom campuses.

Given the online switch this year, there were 316 accommodations requests during Fall 2020 in comparison to 514 accomodation requests in Fall 2019. The numbers dropped to 343 during Spring of 2020 and as low as 219 requests during the summer.

The ADS department staff work with various faculty members at Pierce College to make sure the materials delivered to students are accessible for those with disabilities. This has caused an influx of collaboration between campus entities that could potentially be beneficial for all students in the future, according to Stout.

Though in-person services have been halted by the pandemic due to working with a larger population of immune-compromised individuals, the ADS department anticipates a future collaboration with the testing center. Their aim is to see when it would be safe to provide an optional, socially distanced and reduced distraction environment.

Students that want to request accommodations can visit the ADS page on the Pierce College website and follow the link titled Student Application. The online request system allows students to add information about their disability and upload documentation.

“One thing we tend to mention to students too is that we don’t need to know all their diagnoses, just the ones that they are interested in getting accommodations for,” said Support Supervisor Jordan Blevins at Fort Steilacoom.

Students are required to have a documented disability in order to receive services from ADS. The various documentation can include notes from a licensed therapist, doctor, school district documentation from K-12 or a disability that someone could reasonably document with their eyes.

Assistive hardware and software including ergonomic keyboards, ergonomic mice and specialized screen readers can be found on both campuses, though there’s a designated lab for such equipment at the Fort Steilacoom campus. Students can reserve appointments to use private rooms or access the equipment in the library at the Puyallup campus.

Assisstive technology software such as Dragon, a tool for eLearning success which allows students to dictate what they want their device to do, is available for student use. Ally is another program accessible on Canvas which enables downloads for materials in different formats.

Students facing difficulties with technology related to disability can contact Assistive Technology/Accessibility Specialist Kelsie O’Dea for eLearning assistance.

“Even if you think you don’t qualify, call us because you will not qualify for services if you never say anything,” said Stout.

Though the pandemic has reshaped the lives of ADS students and staff alike, the department continues to work toward equal access and universal design for all students. In the meantime, ADS staff are available by phone, email and Zoom. Contact information can be found on the Pierce College website under the ADS department page.

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Elissa Blankenship

Access and Disability Services department offers remote assistance to students

by Elissa Blankenship time to read: 3 min