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Don’t Go it Alone: An Interview with Jenna Hess: Program Director/ Assistant Professor/ Counselor

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(Elizabeth Preston/The Collegiate)

By Elizabeth Preston

What is Disability Support Services (DSS) and what is the goal?

We exist because of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the way legislation requires GRCC to provide access to all things, but I think our purpose is more than that. Our purpose is to make sure students have the resources that they need to access their life as students without barriers. We are there to serve students, not just because we’re legally required to, but we are here because we have a responsibility to provide open access campus connections for students so they’re getting to what they need to get to.

What are the qualifications for DSS? Who do you provide accommodations for? 

DSS will talk to students who have any type of diagnosis that is defined as a disability by the Americans with Disability Act. 

To qualify as a disability, it must affect at least one major life activity. Those activities include functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. So really, it’s not narrow, it’s a pretty wide gate. It’s a big wide open range.

If a student is interested in DSS accommodations, where and how do they get started? What are the steps?

The first step for any student is for them to identify themselves. GRCC uses a form online called clockwork. Clockwork is an online form that basically helps a student identify who they are, some of the accommodations they think they might need, some experiences with their disability, and then they provide some sort of documentation in that form. 

Students can find this form on the website https://clockwork.grcc.edu/ClockWork/custom/misc/home.aspx . Our office then immediately sees that form and then establishes an intake meeting with a counselor/ advisor in our office. 

How much time does it take to set up a plan? 

It can be as quick as a week. DSS can be fairly ready to talk to students within 48 hours of filling out that form and get them on their schedule. 

Does a student need to provide documentation with proof of having a disability?

We have documentation guidelines for all students. Our guidelines generally require all students to have some sort of formal diagnosis and some sort of formal written form. If not, we can set up an appointment just to talk about “Okay, tell me why don’t you have documentation or what that might look like for you”, where we might be able to get it or we might be able to establish a history of disability with us. 

What kind of accommodations does DSS offer? What do students need to know that DSS can do on their behalf?

We look at accommodations related to access. So some really good examples of that are better different places, maybe to take a test or a different amount of time to take a test because a student might be experiencing something that deals with concentration or you’re in a big classroom setting and the visual distractions in that space are too much. And we need to think about alternative locations for tests or extra time because maybe it takes you a little while to process information and then when it’s time to write, like we extend that to something else. So those are some of our major accommodations revolving around testing.

Another category of major accommodations involves classroom experience. So is there something about the furniture or something about the lighting, something about this spacing, something about how you take notes, so you might need support taking notes because you might need a note taker. Or you might need copies of PowerPoint presentations because it’s just too much to write down quick enough or potentially a way to capture photographs of what’s going on. In the note taking situation. So we think about classroom accommodations and how are you gonna get information out of class? Does that mean some sort of note taking support? Does that mean some sort of classroom support related to audio and visual things in the classroom? Maybe use some sort of technology to record lectures or do your note taking with some sort of technology that we want to make sure it can be accommodated in the classroom,” Hess said.

And then our other kind of bucket of accommodations usually revolves around kind of like the other things of life as a student. So that might be trying to think about lives there, like maybe access to campus buildings or, maybe you need alternative textbooks. So instead of reading a paper copy of your textbook, it’s better for you the way you learn to hear it, so you might get an audio copy of that textbook from our office or some sort of additional software that wouldn’t make hearing your textbooks out loud – a better way to read.

Are there any other local colleges with DSS? 

The Americans with Disability Act is what drives all colleges to protect students with disabilities.

We all have to live under the civil rights law and the Americans with Disabilities Act as a civil rights law that says you can’t discriminate against people with disabilities based on their disability. So the bare minimum requirement is that every school needs to have some sort of protections in place for students with disabilities and their access.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to talk about?

A unique thing about GRCC disability support is that we, unlike a lot of other colleges, actually do academic advising and disability support wrapped up into one.

Are students reluctant to contact you because of the stigma of needing help?

So the stigma is there and we really wish we could erase it if we could. So like that’s a big, big could be a big idea to like find a way to erase that. I think sometimes students leave high school with just, they’re done, they’re “I’m sick of being sick of having a plan for work. I’m sick of the support that that looks like and maybe I want to just be a student and I don’t want to deal with a stigma that has followed me. I’m coming to college to kind of reinvent myself and maybe I want to leave that stigma behind so I don’t want to reidentify, because I’d rather just not.”

I think we have a responsibility to find those people and try to help figure out what would help connect them with our office.

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