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Week of September 12, 2011

More students with disabilities benefit from support, staff and technology

Born without ear canals, graduate student Edward Timke underwent an operation to reconstruct them in middle school. His hearing improved, but he knew there were challenges ahead.

“I still have faced conductive hearing loss, so when I arrived to Michigan, I was worried about being successful as a doctoral student,” Timke says.

Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) Director Stuart Segal says the office serves a growing number of students, as more students registered with SSD in 2010-11 than in the first 20 years of its existence. Photo by Austin Thomason, U-M Photo Services.

Now well on his way to earning a doctoral degree in communications, Timke says the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) has been immensely helpful in his success at U-M.

“Without CART (Computer Assisted Real Time captioning in classes) and support from Jill Rice, the hearing disability coordinator at SSD, and professors and staff in and outside my department, I wouldn’t have built the confidence to succeed and master my coursework,” he says.

Timke and two other students with disabilities joined representatives from SSD and members of the U-M Council for Disability Concerns at a presentation before the Board of Regents in April. The purpose was to mark the progress the SSD office has made in serving a sharply growing number of students who have registered with SSD that they have a disability.

“It was a historic year,” SSD Director Stuart Segal says of 2010-11, adding the office registered more than 500 students this past academic year. “More students registered this year than in the first 20 years of the office’s existence.”

Formed in 1974 as the Office of Disabled Student Services, in 1989 the name was changed to the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities to reflect a more student-centered approach.

Today, students and families who contact SSD can seek referrals concerning admission, registration, available services, financial aid and more. Staff also can help with assessing need for modified housing, attendants, sign language interpreters, readers, transportation, classroom and course accommodations, tutors, note-takers and adaptive equipment.

“We’re really proud of being at the forefront of technological advances for students,” Segal says. He says new book scanners reduce the time it takes to process books for students with visual or learning impairments from a month to just a matter of days. SSD also is one of the few offices to have a staff member available to add closed-captions to DVDs, other media or Internet resources that a student might seek to access. SSD also has access to other adaptive technologies to improve student’s academic performance and ensure that they have an equal opportunity to succeed in their studies.

The types of disabilities reported by students include: visual impairment or blindness, deaf and/or hard of hearing, mobility impairments (including temporary), mental health conditions, chronic health conditions, (such as, seizure disorders, diabetes, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, etc…) learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders, autistic spectrum disorders and traumatic or acquired brain injuries. Segal says 1,687 students with disabilities currently are served by the office.

SSD uses a self-advocacy model, but encourages new students to stay in contact with their SSD staff member as a means of adjusting to University life and improving academic performance. In the coming year, SSD plans to institute a student mentorship program and expand social support groups. “Incoming students benefit when they have somebody they can turn to, to ask questions and point them in the right direction,” Segal says.

He reports that students with disabilities maintain a mean grade-point average of 3.0, and have four-year graduation rates of 80 percent. “Students with disabilities are coming, they’re being successful and they’re graduating,” he says.

In April, Regent Julia Darlow thanked Segal and three student presenters following their report, and recognized U-M Council for Disability Concerns Chair Jack Bernard, Associate General Counsel, Office of the Vice President and General Counsel; and Council Coordinator Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, Disability Issues Librarian, Taubman Health Sciences Libraries. Both were on hand for the presentation.

The Council for Disability Concerns, which meets monthly to discuss a range of issues impacting those with disabilities, includes members from all parts of campus and the local community.

Formed in 1983, the council acts in an advisory capacity regarding university programs and policies which affect people with disabilities and presents a range of activities to support the University community. These include the presentation of the annual James T. Neubacher Award, to honor a member of the University community for his/her advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities. The award is presented in late October during Investing in Ability Week, a showcase for programs and activities to increase awareness and understanding of people who have disabilities and disability-related issues. At the annual October Neubacher Award Ceremony, the Council also awards Certificates of Appreciation to UM connected individuals who have substantially raised the consciousness about disability issues. This year the council will be awarding about a dozen certificates and one of them will be given to doctoral student Edward Timke.

 

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Mon Monarch performs roots music and more, 6 p.m. Sept. 18, Nichols Arboretum.

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