Photo courtesy washington.edu
Photo courtesy washington.edu
Photo courtesy washington.edu

By MARIA KANSO, Guest Reporter

October is Disability Awareness Month.

At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, an office located on the second floor of the University Center works to promote talented individuals with disabilities who strive for a better future.

Disability Services (DS) serves around 260 students each year. It is a mandate that aids students with physical, mental or psychological difficulties and grants them a more successful college experience.

To receive those special services, a student must provide documentation of his or her disability. The office then sends letters of accommodation to the student’s professors without letting them know about the student’s individual situation. DS coordinators then work with faculty and staff to ensure the application of the accommodations as well as assist these students in adapting to university life.

Each student, however, is still responsible for completing his or her assignments and tasks individually.

“It’s meant to let a blind student be able to participate in class just as a sighted student,” said Judith Walker, the disability coordinator at UM-Dearborn. “It’s meant to allow a hearing impaired student to be able to participate in class as a student that can hear. It’s not meant to give students an unfair advantage.”

One of the main goals of DS is to improve and maintain UM-Dearborn’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Physical disabilities are those that involve difficulty in mobility. Amputees and those who have difficulty walking fall under this category of disability. DS helps these students get from place to place on campus and provides them with certain tools inside the classroom, such as special desks for wheelchairs. DS thus annihilates the obstacles that get in the way of simple tasks and helps disabled students meet their most basic needs.

Students with mental disabilities are those who have learning difficulties. They include individuals diagnosed with ADHD or ADD, serious brain injuries as well as some who have a chronic health condition such as seizures, diabetes and even cancer. Some of the accommodations for such disabilities include time extensions, note-takers and scanning of textbooks.

People with vision or hearing imparities need accommodations such as close captioning, Smart Pencils, American Sign Language interpreting services and Communication Access Realtime Transcription services (CART). CART services include note takers, special listening devices, telecommunication devices for the deaf and videotext displays.

Lately, depression is a disability that DS is dealing with more often. It also provides services for those with generalized anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“Many of my students are very, very smart,” said Judith Walker.

She said she’s proud that a large number of students receiving disability services are graduating every term —  many of them with high honors and G.P.A. averages above 3.0.

Despite her hearing impairment, Chasity Hall, a senior Journalism and Screen Studies student, has thrived in school.

“The services actually provided a way for me to know how to utilize my skills in a certain way,” Hall said. “I know my language would be a little bit different, but I have to remember to continue to be positive and confident. The services have actually made me feel that way.”

Melissa Brown, a former student with a hearing impairment, said she found UM-Dearborn faculty and staff to be truly compassionate for students with disabilities.

“He [understood] my disability and [my being] hearing impaired and he me told that I can still do it and believe in myself,” Brown said, referring to a former UM-Dearborn professor Jeff Bowman.

On Oct. 22, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein will be giving a personal narrative at the Ann Arbor campus as a part of the Investing in Ability Series. Disability Services will broadcast a teleconference of the event at the Mardigian Library in room 1211 at noon.  

Bernstein is the first blind Michigan Supreme Court Justice and a University of Michigan graduate.