This Blog is Written by Dennis Polselli, Publicity Coordinator @ CAR
This is the first of at least two blogs dealing with a view of Colleges and universities from a Disability insider’s view. In the first Blog, I will give you my brief background. In the second, I will give you some tips on how to navigate Campus life and how to use the Disability Services office as a source of advocacy. I will also have information on how to involve parents of students with Disabilities, and when parents need to step back and trust the university, as difficult as that may be.
I worked in higher education administration for 29 years beginning at Syracuse University where I obtained my masters degree. During those two years, I was appointed the first blind person as Resident Assistant in two large Resident Halls. I had the Resident Advisor’s manual put on tape from a friend I met at Bishop Connolly High-school. I went the summer after my graduation from Stonehill College to Syracuse University. After that I was an assistant Resident Hall Director at North Adams State College, now called, Commonwealth College where I was responsible for running the Residence Halls on most weekends overseeing Resident Assistants and Student desk workers.
I started working at Framingham State University in 1983 and was a staff assistant in the Housing office training student desk workers and Resident Assistants. In 1994, the College President asked if I would establish a Disability Services office for there was none at the time. I set about doing that. I authored a Disability Services Handbook, I hired reader assistants to record textbooks for students with print disabilities, and I scheduled and hired ASL interpreters for deaf students. I quickly learned all about the shortage of ASL sign-language interpreters in this state and how many classes went unfilled; deaf students had no services during many classes because of the shortage. I established Computer transcribers, people in the community who were fast typists who utilized laptop computers and could type word for word the lectures from the professors and they were paid twenty dollars an hour. The going rate for CART reporters was around 120 dollars an hour and what I came up with was far less expensive and just as effective.
When the university faced budget shortages, I had to make sure we were complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) and provide the necessary accommodations. I went to MCI Framingham to see if I could get the women inmates involved instead of paying reader assistants ten dollars or more an hour and was able to reduce cost and still provide the recording of textbooks by utilizing the services the women of MCI Framingham could provide at no cost to the College. When students besgan using E-books and scanned textbooks, I obtained the services the women could provide as readers for the Radio Reading Service I started for Blind persons. The radio reading service was a community outreach program that provided the reading of daily newspapers, books and magazines on the radio along with disability related information. The parent network dealt with Blindness issues, and I covered other disabilities. One book I broadcast was “In Their Own Words”, by Siblings of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, by Community Autism Resources.
As mentioned in my opening, in the next blog, we will get down to business and get into some tips on how to navigate the campus, get the services you need, and work as a team with the Campus Disability Services office. Two clues should be mentioned in closing: First, the ADA does _not require a formal disability Services office it only says that the institution must provide reasonable accommodations in order for the student with a disability to participate in all the programs and services offered by the Institution. And the second, the responsibility for accommodations shifts from a school system, to the student him or herself.