While the struggle of self-identity is not uncommon amongst individuals, many struggle with a different sense of identity – the label of disability.
Office of Disability Service director, Clint-Michael Reneau, said students are often nervous about approaching ODS simply because of the self-consciousness often attached to that label.
“There’s some issues or stigmatization that go with that and that ends up hindering students because they don’t seek the appropriate accommodations that are necessary.”
Reneau said his office worked on accommodations for approximately two-thousand students last Fall, working with those who had either physical, cognitive or learning disabilities, as well as student veterans and students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Often though, Reneau says, a disability is undetectable, misunderstood, or both.
“The vast majority of students we serve in this office are students with disabilities that you can’t see – the invisible disabilities.”
English and Philosophy senior Allison Dunsmore has a disability that acts this way. Dunsmore was diagnosed with Epilepsy at age 15. Within the past two years, she said, her seizures have become less frequent and more manageable. Dunsmore said she has only used the ODS test taking accommodations twice because of this, though it sometimes presents a Catch-22 situation for her.
“The thing with my disability is I can’t really tell if I’m going to have a seizure or not. So I don’t like going if I don’t need it because sometimes I feel like I’m taking advantage of it but sometimes I don’t like taking tests in a class because if I do have one, I just lost ten minutes of valuable test time.”
Reneau said apprehensive feelings regarding ODS services are common.
“All of us get caught up in image and what people think of us. Sometimes people are fearful of being vulnerable and sometimes people fear that it will put them in an uneven playing field.”
Some students who may feel like they’re in this field are those with a temporary disability. Reneau said last Fall, his office saw about 90 students who had temporary disabilities. While permanent disabilities are accommodated in several ways by ODS, the same accommodations apply to temporary disabilities, but are coupled with different conditions.
“Typically if a student has a temporary disability like a broken leg, a broken arm, or is recovering from surgery, ODS requires a letter from their doctor and reviews the dates given by that physician to make sure we can try to provide services within that time frame.”
Reneau said they will extend the time period if the need is still there. Students with permanent disabilities do not need to go through this re-application process once they have registered their disability through the office. There are, however, temporary disabilities of a different nature. Reneau said some of these have included severe asthma, heart conditions and cancer. ODS, he said, will accommodate just the same as with those with permanent disabilities.
“Typically what we’ll do, depending on what their temporary disability is, we will provide a letter to the instructor letting them know what their accommodations are and accommodations can include arriving late to class; it might be that we help them with the Dean of Students office in providing notes for missing class because of medical appointments or treatments. We provide additional time on exams. And those are services we also provide for students who are registered through the office.”
Whether a student is dealing with a temporary or a permanent disability, it is still a struggle, Dunsmore said. Her own experience has shown her it is good to know support is available.
“I think just the fact that the ODS office is there and available for those who want to take advantage of it is a really good thing for students. Whether it’s a neurological problem or a mobile disability – it’s there for everybody.”
Reneau said he hopes that a student, after coming in to see the ODS will feel more included and supported after, no matter how nervous he or she feels at first.
“You’re seeking what’s best for your educational journey. Everyone has their own journey, so we’re just here to try to help meet people where they are in their journey.”
Dunsmore said she feels students have different journeys – different end goals and interests in this university experience, but we should all respect each other the same.
“It’s important to see everybody – we’re all in college; it’s important to see them as peers. We’re all here in college. We’re all here with struggles – some of us may need the ODS to help with those struggles.”
While struggles can arise out of either cognitive, physical, psychological or learning disabilities, the resources remain the same. The ODS staff can be found on the fifth floor of the LBJ Student Center, in suite 5-5.1. ODS operates Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm and can be contacted by e-mailing email@example.com.
Listen to the story here