Disability resource offices vary greatly in terms of size. Some campuses have less than a one FTE (full-time equivalent) dedicated to disability access and equity. Other campuses have very large numbers of people doing this work. Having the adequate number of people for the size of the campus is an issue that is addressed by advocacy in a separate section. In this section, we will address the roles of those who do this work.
What is current practice?
Some of the current practices staffing models include:
- A single person office in which the person has multiple roles and responsibilities, including overseeing accommodations.
- A single person dedicated to this work with the person’s role being a counselor whose focus is on student accommodations.
- An office with various people who “specialize” in working with specific groups of disabled students—”deafness specialist”, “blind and low vision specialist”, “autism specialist”, “LD specialist”, etc.
- An office with several “case managers” who do not have specific specialties but who carry a “caseload” of students.
- Within the office that provides academic support and tutoring, one or more staff members have the additional role of working with disabled students.
Those hired into these positions typically have professional training in counseling or special education.
What are the implicit messages?
- No specific knowledge or understanding of access is needed. Access and accommodations is just a responsibility bolted onto a more important role.
- The problem of disability is the student’s condition and a counselor or case manager can serve to assist the student in dealing with those problems.
- Professionals are experts on specific conditions and are suited to determine what is best for each “type” of student.
- Disabled students are struggling academically and need support to succeed. Accommodations are a type of support that is provided to these students.
How could this be different?
Staffing could be addressed in a way that provides adequate resources to address issues related to disability access and inclusion and that recognizes the need to focus more on the design of the environment.
- At least one FTE, even on small campuses is dedicated to disability access and inclusion. This allows this person to engage in professional development opportunities and remain informed of practices in accessible design and in provision of accommodations.
- The disability resource office is not combined with counseling, health services or academic support services, but stands on its own. (See the section on location of the office in the administrative organization for more on this.)
- Staff positions do not specialize on certain conditions but on specific environments. The director looks for people who have skillsets that allow these individuals to collaborate with students, and also collaborate with key stakeholders on campus to improve design.
- Staff have responsibilities that are both reactive (e.g., responding to requests for accommodations when designs are inadequate) and proactive (e.g., consultation with campus partners and providing presentations on accessible design).
- Other degrees would be valued such as information technology, instructional design, disability studies, leadership, and communications.
What is the potential impact of this change?
- The institution sends a clear message that it is committed to providing access and dedicated adequate resources to do so.
- The problem of disability does not reside within the individual student but the design of environments.
- Disabled students and the work of the disability resource office are valued.
- The responsibility for access belongs to the institution as a whole, not only to the disability service office.
- Disabled students are as capable as other students. They face barriers other students don’t encounter.