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Breaking Disability Barriers

The following appeared in North Philly Notes, July 2023 -

July is Disability Pride Month, which is a time to recognize and appreciate disability as an important part of our diverse identities. It's also a chance to share in the happiness and pride that disabled individuals bring to our communities. While we celebrate disability, it is also important to acknowledge that the disabled community is still often overlooked, undervalued, and excluded.

Although significant progress has been made since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law 33 years ago, there is still much work to be done. This month is an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of the many ways in which disability enriches our lives, but it's also a time to assess how we can become more accessible and inclusive in our thoughts, actions, and environments. Disability Services in Higher Education: An Insider's Guide focuses on the important role that disability services professionals play as agents of change, working tirelessly to promote full and equal access for disabled students in higher education.

What does the book contain? It has six parts, 332 pages, an assortment of acronyms, and insights from five authors with 70 years of collective experience in supporting students with disabilities. This unique resource provides theoretical and practical content that promotes understanding of the disability services field and encourages discussions to enhance accessibility and inclusivity in higher education.

Support for college students with disabilities is legally required under the ADA. However, there is no standard blueprint for this complex work. Disability Services in Higher Education provides this blueprint for a wide audience, including new and seasoned professionals, faculty, and institutional partners, K-12 educators, and college consultants. Part one provides an overview of how institutions serve students with disabilities and acknowledges that disability service offices vary widely in staff experience, institutional buy-in, philosophies, and resources.

The second part of the book takes a macro and micro-level view of the field, looking at office structure and location, staffing levels, models of service provision, spaces we occupy, budgets, onboarding new staff, records management, and guidance to advocate for additional resources. We provide a comprehensive analysis of disability as a social construct and as a complicated and often misunderstood identity. We explore historical models of examining disability, language, and identity development, and how we can facilitate positive development. Additionally, we discuss how embracing disability culture reduces discrimination while promoting inclusion and justice.

In part three we focus on the interactive process by first providing an overview of the legal, philosophical, and logistical changes that occur during the transition from high school to college. We then discuss the foundational underpinnings of establishing disability and understanding the documentation practices for identifying functional limitations, structuring the intake interview, and making reasonable determinations. In addition, we offer guidance on implementing accommodations and the importance of continued interaction with relevant constituents. Specific categories of accommodation are explored in relation to barrier removal, and we have included a chapter on assistive technology and auxiliary aids that is easily understood. We discuss our role as case managers in coordinating services with other campus providers and monitoring students' performance throughout their lifecycles. Finally, an entire chapter is dedicated to working with faculty to help them navigate accommodations, from those who are too accommodating to those who struggle to understand the basic premise of access.

Part four focuses on compliance and how legal cases influence policies, processes, and procedures. We aim to make the grievance process less daunting by walking through the complaint process at the institutional and federal levels. We also highlight some well-known legal cases and their resolutions.

In part five, we delve into the concept of inclusion in design, examining its impact on both physical and digital environments and illuminating how design has the power to include or exclude. We explore laws and standards related to inclusion and provide options for meeting or surpassing them. Additionally, we dedicate an entire chapter to universal design, with guidance on encouraging stakeholders to embrace this approach throughout their campuses.

Part six serves as our conclusion, reflecting on the insights gained and looking ahead to future considerations as we work towards achieving full inclusion.

Disability Services in Higher Education has a unique feature that sets it apart from others. Each chapter begins with thought-provoking questions that aid in learning, while reflective exercises are provided at the end of each chapter. These exercises include real-world scenarios, which are useful for professionals to ponder upon. Additionally, we offer job aids that include customizable forms, checklists, training materials, letters, and policy examples. These aids can be used immediately and are free of cost.

As we celebrate disability pride, we hope our book serves as a catalyst for enhancing operational practices and advancing disability rights. It's our way of honoring and celebrating the intrinsic worth and meaningful contributions individuals with disabilities bring to our society.


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