Faculty and staff at Queens University of Charlotte are striving to learn more about the population of students who have disabilities and how Queens accommodates them.
Tracy Stephens, assistant professor in the department of English, explained that her definition of a disability is the interaction between somebody’s bodily difference. This can include medical conditions or an environment that’s not built for someone with a physical impairment.
For instance, an individual has a disability because there are stairs, not because they’re in a wheelchair, Stephens said. She feels it’s important to focus on the environment and cause of disability rather than a person’s body.
Stephens said Queens’ Student Accessibility Services provides reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. They help level the playing field for these students, while still ensuring they’re working diligently to receive their education.
The two laws that cover people with disabilities in a higher education are the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, Dr. Cort Schneider, coordinator of Student Accessibility Services, said. This also includes the Fair Housing Act, since Queens has emotional support animals as well.
Schneider said there are 21 students who have emotional support animals on campus, which involve everything from a ferret, to squirrels, geckos, dogs, cats and bunnies, among a few others. He explained that they help students who have anxiety, depression, or both, acclimatize to their dorm environment.
Another service the office contributes is testing accommodations. “Some of them include things related to testing, like, extra time for testing or testing in an environment with fewer distractions,” said Stephens.
They also include different formats and materials for testing, since some students can’t use scantrons because of complications with attention or visual processing. Stephens said some students will have to take another form of the test, or use a take-home exam instead of a timed test.
“We will also help students who have dietary needs,” said Schneider. He described how they collaborate with dining services and provide some students accommodations for the cafeteria, because, despite meals that are made without gluten, they’re not always truly gluten-free since they’re prepared next to other foods with gluten.
Still another accommodation Student Accessibility Services provides for students is note-taking. Schneider explained students who have learning disabilities can become successful in the classroom environment by recording their courses notes.
However, there are some professors who might disapprove of students recording in their classroom. So they established note-taking as an accommodation only if it will allow and fulfill students’ needs to record notes from their courses.
Schneider said the office also works with students who need accommodations for study abroad trips. For example, Queens prepared a wheelchair for a student who traveled to Australia last year.
“I think the cool thing about this job is that you get to interface with almost every part of Queens,” said Schneider. Any part of the university that impacts a student’s life is something he may encounter because students with disabilities are going to be impacted as well.
Challenges for Students with Disabilities
There are additional accommodations that Queens needs for students with disabilities. Stephens elaborated on a few, including adjustments to their physical environment, such as building ramps, elevators, and brail signage on doors for students to locate their classrooms.
Stephens said they also need to replace the brick sidewalks with non-slippery concrete. This includes deactivating sprinklers when they’re inessential since they cause the sidewalks to become slippery.
Stephens also hopes Queens can incorporate disability perspectives into classes more often. She said it will help students accept their own identity, and encourage the rest of Queens student population to be more accepting and understanding of people with disabilities.
She further mentioned that the Queens’ Health and Wellness Center has been a challenge for students with disabilities. Students have told her it can be difficult to schedule counseling appointments, and how their office can only provide a limited amount of student services before referring them to another person.
There are several people within Queens’ student population that have anxiety and depressive disorders. “As a result, we need more resources at the Health and Wellness Center,” said Stephens.
Queens might also need to provide more support and expansion for the Student Accessibility Services office. Stephens feels it should involve another person besides just Schnieder to make the determinations on whether someone qualifies for accommodations and specific ones they’ve been qualified too.
There are many students who had to wait to retrieve letters approving their accommodations. “Meanwhile, they’re missing classes where absences aren’t excused, assignments they can’t make up, or don’t have access to a specific textbook because it’s not in an accessible format,” said Stephens.
“I don’t want to say we’re short-staffed, but we could always use more help,” said Schneider. 76 students requested accommodations after he received his position in July 2017. That number increased this year to 219.
If it escalates further, it’s going to be challenging for Schneider to properly execute everything that needs to be completed for all of the students making requests.
Schneider said he is currently tracking all the data on students to see what the different types of disabilities they have and challenges there are. There two more additional challenges he finds students at Queens face from an accessibility standpoint.
The first is ensuring that all online materials, videos, and courses are accessible on MyCourses. The second is acquiring more space for testing, as the office has a limited number of rooms for students to complete their tests.
Last semester, the office hosted 700 tests and only had five rooms for students to occupy. Schneider said that they have received additional rooms this term, but space is always a challenge.
Schneider enjoys meeting students and has a lot of love and passion for working in the Student Accessibility Services Center. “I always tell students if you’re not in my office enough to bother me, then you’re not in my office enough,” he said. “You can be great and disabled, and be awesome and disabled, so come use these resources because they can help you.”
“All of those things are huge assets to an academic community, because they encourage new, innovative thinking and attention to different perspectives,” said Stephens. She added how everyone should also recognize students with disabilities as assets to our classes, rather than a problem to work around.
She said, “I think if people can come to disability with that attitude, and embrace it as something positive, we can stop seeing making accommodations as a burden and more as a way of ensuring that are classes get to bring in these great students with disabilities and everything they have to offer.”
A Student’s Experience
Dara Beth Childers, a post-traditional student at Queens University of Charlotte, was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at the age of 14. Some of the main causes of her anxiety were related to feelings of loss, but she didn’t realize she had school-related anxiety until returning to school at the age of 39.
“I did have test anxiety but didn’t realize it was a real thing, or that I could get an accommodation for it until the last semester of getting my associates degree,” said Childers. One of her professors at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) revealed it does indeed qualify as an accommodation after they realized she was struggling to complete her tests.
Childers received the appropriate documentation from her doctor’s office and turned it in at CPCCs’ accommodations services. They later provided her accommodations for extensions on tests and anything related to causing anxiety, such as talking in front of people.
After graduating from CPCC in May of 2017, the college’s accommodations services suggested meeting with Schneider, since Childers planned to continue her education at Queens the following fall semester. “So, I took the same paperwork over here, and he gave me the accommodation of more time on tests, taking them in the testing center or in another classroom after I’d talk to my professor about it,” said Childers.
Childers added that because of her generalized anxiety disorder, she’s also been diagnosed with dysthymia, which is an intermittent episode of depression. This can induce flare-ups caused by a new loss or stressor, and she will sometimes need an additional accommodation provided by her psychiatrist. “Then, Dr. Schneider, in turn, would send a letter to my professors giving me a little bit of extended time on assignments,” she said.
“He’s amazing and knows exactly what to do and how to coach you through that whole process,” said Childers. She attributed a lot of her success at Queens to Schneider and Jennifer Daniel, a professor in the English department and the director of Writing and Learning Services in the Center for Student Success, helped her as well.
Daniel works closely with Schnieder and is a huge advocate for Student Accessibility Services. childers said they both have helped guide her at Queens, as well as assist other students in receiving services from the center.
Childers also revealed that she’s the lead tutor at the Center for Student Success. She described how at every beginning of the semester, she helps set up the system that creates tickets for students who want to be contacted by the Student Accessibility Services.
After that, Childers assists them in creating their account, and answered questions regarding whether they have this type of disability, such as attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, or anxiety disorder. She also added how it’s important for students to not be afraid to disclose their disability so they can utilize these resources and receive accommodations.
As one of her long-term goals, Childers plans to become a therapist and hopefully establish her own practice. She wants to cater to those who don’t have medical care and offer them an income-base fee schedule.
“It doesn’t matter whether they have insurance, Medicaid, private pay, or none, because I don’t want to deny anyone access to care,” said Childers. She wants to make everyone feel comfortable with having a diagnosis of a mental disorder instead of being ashamed of it.
“It’s because I’ve had previous people in my life who’ve made me feel less than as a result of it and it’s been very damaging,” said Childers. She wants to make sure no one else experiences the same thing that she went through.
“There’s also no shame in asking for help, and your ability to get those accommodations is something that you’re entitled too as a human being, not just as a student, but in life,” said Childers.