Metropolitan State Disabilities Services helps students achieve higher-ed goals
On a scale of one to 10, Eve Nichols figures the United States is about at five when it comes to furnishing persons with disabilities all they need to equally compete with the able-bodied.
“We’ve got a lot more to do,” said Nichols, disabilities services coordinator for Metropolitan State University (MSU) for the past year. “Individuals with disabilities should have the same chance of receiving an education, training, employment, and transportation and other services that enhance quality of life as able-bodied persons.”
Metropolitan State, she noted, plays an instrumental role in helping those with disabilities pursue their higher-education goals. The university’s disabilities services served about 150 students in the past year. That’s up considerably from the early 1990s, when the office first opened.
For many students, their disabilities are apparent; perhaps they’re using a wheelchair or white cane. But for about 60 percent, disabilities are invisible. Indeed, many who are eligible for MSU services don’t even seek them, sometimes because of shame or fear. They hide their disability, said Nichols, because “they don’t want to be treated differently by students and faculty or anybody else. Some mistakenly think that if they have a disability or use our services, it will be entered into their educational record and viewed by future employers. That’s definitely not true.”
One of the most common MSU services is interpreting for the deaf. About 30 contract interpreters provided this service during the past year. The number of deaf students is going up, said Nichols, because “word has gotten around that we offer good service here.”
John Lee Clark, a blind and deaf student pursuing an individualized bachelor’s degree in deaf/blind studies, uses disabilities services for transcription of course materials into Braille. The office also provides American Sign Language interpreters so Clark can “hear” classroom instructors.
“It is impossible to overstate the office’s value, because it would be impossible for me to study at the university at all without its services,” said Clark, who has attended Gallaudet University. “MSU is my best educational experience, and more than anything else, disability services is to be thanked for that.”
MSU disability services also provides a wide range of supports, from note-takers for those who have difficulty jotting down notes in class, to lecture notes in an alternative print format, to audio assistance devices, to distraction-free environments for those who need quiet space and/or extended time to take tests, to job searching.
Adding to MSU’s conducive environment, Nichols often conducts workshops educating faculty and staff on the makeup of the university’s disabled students, their rights under federal law and the services her office offers.
Even with the many services and technologies available, Nichols wants to be clear; higher education is a difficult journey for many disabled students.
She added, “We can provide accommodations so they can get equal access to information, but there is always an extra step, some extra work, that students with disabilities have to take.”
“Students with disabilities enhance the university because they bring the value of their experiences and perspectives to the classroom,” said Nichols. “When they’re in class, they help break down stereotypes about people and they also help prepare students for the diverse employees they will meet in the workplace.”
Harvey Meyer is a writer for Metropolitan State University’s office of publication and news services.