UW revamps their disability support system.
By: Alli Mann
A few years ago, students with disabilities faced a long uphill battle when attending college. Today, it is still a battle. However, students have more tools in their arsenal than ever before.
“The stigma around certain conditions have gone down so more of students with those conditions enrolling has gone up,” Amanda O’Brien, the director of the Disability Support Services (DSS), says. To support the students chasing their dreams despite less-than-ideal odds, the University of Wyoming has revamped their disability support system.
The Disability Support Services
Legally, the DSS fills the requirement set out by the American Disabilities act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Both acts fight to prohibit discrimination based on disability and gives more rights to people struggling with a disability. O’Brien says recent amendments have granted her team newfound power in creating a universal learning environment.
“Our hope is to provide equal access for people with disabilities. That can be physical, mental, emotional, cognitive. Anything that significantly impairs a major life activity for a period of time can be qualified for a disability,” O’Brien says.
Working with academic accommodations is the bread and butter of the DSS. Traditionally students were limited with their choices for academic aid. However, O’Brien says in the past five years, new power given through the amendments has allowed the DSS the room to think creatively with students and faculty.
“We make it work. It might be thinking creatively. It might be asking other departments to help chip in for it because it might be something that benefits all of their students,” O’Brien says.
She explains making classes universal would benefit everyone. The DSS has helped the university meet UDL standards (Universally Designed for Learning) for anything from constructing buildings to installing pianos.
“We see a lot of students coming to college who use to maybe not feel comfortable coming,” O’Brien says about the diversity campus is enjoying.
It is a diversity reflected in the range of disabilities the DSS is now able to help. From an Autism Spectrum Disorder or Social Anxiety to crippling Migraines and surgery, if a student as the proper paperwork, the DSS will do their best to find accommodations. O’Brien jokingly says they always know when ski season starts because there is a surge of students who ask for note-taking help.
The Psychology Clinic
For years, the Psychology Clinic has provided affordable mental health assessments and therapy for UW students and the community. Run by graduate students, the clinic offers hour-long counseling sessions for five dollars. They are excited to begin promoting new groups and teams designed to address a broader range of disorders.
“Oftentimes, it’s just really nice to have someone in your corner,” Ryan Kozina, the Graduate Student Director of the Clinic says.
With new faculty recently hired, Kozina says they are now able to offer expertise in eating and sleep disorders. They’ve also added a team to address the growing need for relationship and marital therapy and revamped their ADHD training in the fall.
“I think it is very important and a lot of people don’t know they have these options,” Kozina says.
He stresses that if money is a barrier to getting help, the clinic is happy to work out a plan. They do their best to accommodate every student, but with limited time and staff, resources can be stretched thin and priorities have to be made. The idea of hiring a staff psychologist has been passed around, according to Kozina. For now, the clinic focuses on seeing as many students as they can while recruiting more staff and graduate students.
Kozina also advocates for students to call in if they are on the fence about seeking help.
“There’s no real negative outcome that could have,” he says.
WIND and WATR
The Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) works to further develop rights for people with disabilities. The Wyoming Assistive Technology Resources (WATR) is a branch of WIND looking specifically at Assistive Technology (AT).
“It works like a library,” says the Occupational Therapist at WIND, Ryan Rausch.
Students can loan AT for free or close to free. Unlike the DSS, they don’t require documentation. It’s partly for these reasons that the DSS and Psychology Clinic will write referrals to WIND when the need arises.
So, what exactly is AT? Rausch says its main goal is to make the world more accessible for people with disabilities. AT maximizes a person’s participation in academics, social life and general functioning. Many students find use in the rows of technology they can check out.
One program WIND is hoping catches on is Zoom- a telehealth service that could reach the many rural places of Wyoming.
“With Wyoming being so large in landmass and far between, it’s one way we can connect to rural communities,” Rausch says about the program. “I would love to reach out to those small places.”
With the growing support for disabilities, a universally accessible Wyoming may not be far away.