What DSS does and hopes to do

Sam Ford/THE

The Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) is an organization on campus that provides accommodations and services to students with psychological conditions, medical conditions and temporary injuries.

Senior Reporter

The Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) is an organization on campus that provides accommodations and services to students with psychological conditions, medical conditions and temporary injuries.

According to April Howarth, one of the accommodation coordinators for DSS, there are currently 1,923 students enrolled through DSS in some way.

“Our office provides academic accommodations as well as housing accommodations,” Howarth said.

Some of the housing accommodations that DSS provides for students include proximity to an elevator in their dorm, room assignment on the first floor, handicap access buttons near exits and access to a refrigerator for certain types of medication.

When registering for DSS, students use an online form that asks for information regarding their needs, such as specification of their diagnosis and what accommodations they might need.

However, the list is not exhaustive and new conditions come up every once in a while.

“A student can provide us with documentation from a medical doctor, a neurologist, psychologist, a counselor.” Howarth said. “Basically any third-party professional qualified to make a diagnosis.”

DSS also provides a variety of academic resources for students including extended time for exams, sign language, braille and technology such as text-to-speech and smart pens.

Smart pens are a type of pen designed to help some students with disabilities take notes. The pens are made by a company called Livescribe and can be purchased from the university bookstore. However, for student accommodations, DSS allocates the pens to students for free so long as they return them at the end of the year.

Smart pens work like a regular pen in that they have ink cartridges, but they also have a built-in camera and tape recorder. The pens require a special notebook that contains microscopic dots, allowing students to start and stop the recording simply by tapping controls printed on the paper.

Howarth said that there is a technology center in both the DSS office and the library. Both locations have computers with certain programs installed for the students.

Dragon Dictation is one of the many programs installed on the computers. Is is a text-to-speech program originally produced by Apple for its iOS operating system. It is not always completely accurate and sometimes has trouble recognizing foreign phrases. However, it is free and generally easy to use.

“We also have a program that’s going to convert text into a digitized format,” Howarth said. “They’ve updated that software recently so if you’re using Google Chrome you can actually ask it to read [out loud] whatever you’re reading online.”

One of the most common accommodations is extended time for exams. Howarth said the registration deadline is in place for both logistical and space reasons. There is only a limited amount of seats in the DSS office in Alison Hall, so it helps the staff to be able to plan the seating arrangement.

It also benefits the professors who have students enrolled with DSS in their classes. They get to decide how the exams should be delivered.

“Some professors don’t like to do things electronically,” Howarth said. “Some prefer to physically come here and hand us the exam and pick it up after the students are done.”

Howarth said that depending upon the needs of the student, it takes professors time to convert the exam into the necessary format. These changes can include a bigger font or the need for text-to-speech.

In the event that students’ extra time overlaps with the office’s closing time, the student would need to ask their professor for permission to take the exam earlier.

Sometimes professors send out emails to their students asking them for a note taker. There is a lot of work that goes into note taking so this is usually done to accommodate those that may have a physical need. Howarth said she usually advises this if a student breaks their dominant hand.

Emily Aniunas, a third-year psychology major registered with DSS, said that most of what DSS does works, but it depends on the person. She said the main issue is that miscommunication still happens and frustrates the professors more than anyone.

“I’ve found that with teachers who are on top of their game, it’s not a huge deal,” Aniunas said. “There’s not usually any confusion, but I have experienced that before.”

Aniunas said that when she was taking an exam earlier on in the year, there was a miscommunication between the professor and the proctor over the use of a notecard. The situation was ultimately resolved by an email, but not before Aniunas was “standing there for nearly 30 minutes.”

Despite these kinds of issues, Howarth said that DSS strives to find the best solution for each student. The staff is specially trained in working with people with disabilities.

“I think the main thing that needs to be tackled still is society’s general attitude and stigma that is still associated with disability, particularly invisible disabilities,” Howarth said.

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