This blog is written by Dennis Polselli, Publicity Coordinator at CAR.
Because of my total blindness and having spent 14 years in a school for the blind, before the president of Framingham State University asked me to establish a Disability Services Office, I wanted nothing to do with being pegged as a Disability Services Director, or Coordinator. However, my experiences led me to get involved in Disability advocacy organizations for both the Blind and what we call, “Cross-Disabilities.” For 15 of the 26 years I worked at Framingham State University, I was very proud to be a Disability Services Coordinator. I had accepted that role and I was determined that as long as I was to have such a title, I was going to do it the right way. I’m not sure that I always did, but I was there for 15 years. I believed that the position was to advocate for students and employees with Disabilities. Everyone has the right to have the same access to all that the College had to offer from Academics, to the social experiences. I found that professors were better at accepting the concept of providing accommodations for persons with Disabilities. The individuals who run the extra- curricular activities were a different story. In some cases I felt that what they could provide was even more important to some degree, than academics, because extra- curricular activities can provide opportunities for resume building.
Another area that I always had problems with was the process for determining who got accommodations. Colleges and Universities require documentation, specific diagnosis of the Disability from doctors, social workers, clinicians etc. I never felt qualified to make those determinations and I wonder if some of the College personnel had the necessary training particularly when it came to such conditions as the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Did we as an institution really know enough to make the necessary accommodations or to accept or deny accommodations?
An interesting concern is whether or not to involve the parent or guardian of the college student in determining what’s best for the person with a disability with respect to accommodations. It was the College or University’s position that students needed to learn to navigate problem solving without parent or guardian, but I always felt, that depending on the Disability, it was appropriate to initially involve the parent or guardian in determining what kinds of accommodations were necessary to make the College experience better for the student both in and out of the classroom. Once the determinations were made, then it is important for the parent or guardian to step back and give the student the opportunity to learn the necessary self advocacy skills. In the end, I believe that Disability support services on campuses should involve day-to-day organizations and agencies that serve individuals with Disabilities, including contracting for services with these agencies such as, Autism Support Centers, centers for Independent Living and places like the Perkins School for the Blind. I also believe that the most important phrase in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other regulations governing Colleges and Universities, are the words: “Case by Case.” There is no one size fits all. That is how I view, “Doing Disability Services Right.”