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 Disability Support Services 

The Disability Support Services Directory 

The Disability Support Services Directory was compiled by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in an effort to update information collected in 1992 about services for community college students with disabilities. Previous editions were produced by AACC in 1992 and by AACC and the American Council on Education in 1988. The data reported in the present directory were gathered during summer 1995 through mid-1996 from 672 public and private community, technical, and junior college disability support service (DSS) personnel who responded to an AACC survey. Responses, based on Fall 1995 headcount numbers, apply to both full-time and part-time students.

The Survey Instrument

The survey instrument solicited information related to the following: DSS staff contacts; enrollment; number of students registered for DSS; degree or certificate attainment; types of disabilities represented by students who request services; services and accommodations offered to those students; special features or programs that the college regards as particularly effective or unusual; technology; outreach activities; and outcomes.

Nine categories of disabilities were surveyed: visual impairment or blindness, deafness/hard of hearing, orthopedic/mobility disabilities, speech/language disorders, learning disabilities, mental retardation, emotional/behavioral disorders, head injuries, and chronic illness and other. The distribution of these categories is shown in Part II. The 28 types of support services and accommodations about which information was requested are shown below:  

  • Disability-specific scholarships      
  • Disability support services office      
  • Disability resource handbook      
  • Special orientation      
  • Registration assistance      
  • Housing - on campus      
  • Housing - off campus      
  • Emergency evacuation      
  • Transportation      
  • Extracurricular activities      
  • Adapted sports/physical education      
  • Counseling (personal)      
  • Disability-specific assessment      
  • Learning center lab      
  • Interpreters      
  • Notetakers/scribes/readers      
  • Taped texts      
  • Tutoring (specialized LD)      
  • Alternative exam formats/time      
  • Course substitution/waiver      
  • Independent living/social skills training      
  • Vocational assessment/career counseling      
  • Job-seeking skills training      
  • Job placement      
  • Study skills training      
  • Self-advocacy training      
  • Transfer assistance

 

Social Security tuition waiver Colleges were asked to identify outreach activities in eight areas: accommodation consultation to business; advisory board; vocational rehabilitation agency (government); vocational rehabilitation agency (non-government); community organization collaboration; high school counselor outreach; parent organization outreach; and other.

In addition, the colleges were asked to provide information on any noteworthy or most valuable features of their programs, as well as any noteworthy assisted technology facilities or equipment available to students with disabilities.

Findings

Institutional Contacts 

Nearly 80 percent (79.4) of all campuses responding to the survey reported having a Disability Support Service Office. Up from 70 percent in 1992, this appears to be an indication of heightened awareness of DSS needs. As in 1992, a variety of professionals are listed as contacts for DSS information. Among those with a DSS office, the most common titles for contact staff are director, coordinator, specialist, or liaison. Among institutions without an identified DSS office, the responsibilities for DSS reporting appear to range widely: registrars, directors of assessment, advancement or grants officers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, academic deans, institutional research officers, academic support coordinators, support service staff. The inclusion of grants officers as DSS contact staff suggests that some disability support services may rely on outside funding for operation. In institutions without a separate DSS office, deans of student services most frequently and not surprisingly assume responsibility for disability support services.

Enrollment/graduation  

Among all of public postsecondary education, two-year colleges enroll the highest percentage of students with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education's 1992-92 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS) shows that 71 percent of all students with disabilities in public postsecondary institutions are in two-year colleges; 29 percent are in four-year colleges and universities. This represents an 8 percent increase at community colleges since the 1989-90 NPSAS study.

According to AACC's 1995 survey, approximately 8 percent of community college students reported having a disability, compared with 6 percent in 1992. Half of the 8 percent of students reporting disabilities also request DSS assistance, compared with one-third requesting special services or accommodations in 1992. There are several possibilities for the increase in requests for services: DSS services are more readily available; students are more aware of DSS services; or more students are coming through the public school system aware of their right to accommodations.

Data on graduate rates for students with disabilities is incomplete. Less than 31 percent of the responding institutions provided data on degree completion by DSS students overall, and less than 21 percent reported infomation on certificate attainment by those students. Even fewer responses were provided on degree/certificate attainment by gender or race/ethnicity.

Students registered for disability support services

Community college contacts were asked to report the categories of disabilities represented by their DSS students. If students fell into more than one category, the responses were to reflect the primary category only. Approximately 14 percent of all campuses responding did not keep DSS student data by category. However, among those 570 institutions reporting data by category, learning disabilities constituted by far the largest (about 38 percent) single category of disability served by a DSS office. It was followed by orthopedic or mobility disabilities (18 percent), and chronic illesses/other disabilities (15 percent). Students in all other categories of disabilities were fairly evenly divided, with speech and language disorders the smallest group. The distribution overall has not changed since the 1992 survey. 

DSS gender and racial/ethnic information was sought from community colleges for the first time in the 1995 AACC survey. Males and females appeared to request disability support services in fairly equal numbers (49 percent male, 51 percent female). Similarly, racial/ethnic composition of DSS students closely mirrored that of the general population: White, 71 percent; African American, 13 percent; Hispanic, 11 percent; Asian/Pacific Islander, 2 percent; Native American, 1 percent; and Other, 2 percent. 

Although the figure for learning disabilities is up very slightly since 1992, the increase may be attributed to a change in survey language. The 1992 survey category Developmental Disabilities was more accurately called Mental Retardation in the 1995 instrument; since the 1995 increase in numbers for Learning Disabilities is offset by a comparable decrease in numbers for Mental Retardation, it is possible that learning disabilities were sometimes reported as developmental disabilities earlier. 

Support services and accommodations 

College staff provided information about the availability of 28 specific support services and types of accommodations offered on community college campuses. With the exception of study skills training, a category added in 1995, offered by 78.8 percent of respondents, the most prevalent services and accommodations are the same as reported in 1992: adaptive equipment/technology, registration assistance, notetakers/readers/scribes, counseling, alternative exam formats/time, DSS office, interpreters, taped texts, learning center lab, and tutoring. According to respondents, some of these became more extensively used since 1992: interpreters (up12 percent), taped texts (up10 percent), notetakers/readers/scribes (up 9.6 percent), and DSS office (up 9.4 percent). Most dramatic was the use of adaptive equipment/technology. In 1992, 69 percent of respondents said their campuses offered adaptive equipment; in 1995, every respondent listed some kind of assisted technology facilities or equipment, an increase of 31 percent. 

The 1992 category of vocational assessment became vocational assessment/career counseling in 1995, with 71.5 percent reporting offering that service. Four categories appeared for the first time on the 1995 survey: study skills training, transfer assistance (provided by 68.1 percent of respondents), and social security tuition waivers (reported by only 10.5 percent of respondents).

Special features 

Colleges reported a wide range of programs or services that they considered to be noteworthy and that went beyond the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 2973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Among them are large adaptive physical education programs or day care centers, mentoring and job shadowing programs, and international student exchange programs. A number of colleges have DSS student clubs, high tech centers, and cooperative education programs. Selected special features are indexed in the directory. 

Technology 

Contrary to 1992, when "adapted equipment (phones, computers, etc.)" was included in the list of possible support services and accommodations available to students with disabilities, the 1995 AACC survey asked an open-ended question specifically about the use of technology. Although nearly one in three (31 percent) of 1992 respondents did not report having any adapted equipment, every respondent in the 1995 survey listed various types of special technology. Examples cited include: voice-activated software, screen magnification software, hearing assistive devices, talking calculators; large screen monitors; large monitor microscopes, accessible lab tables, braille printers, keyboard adaptations, large character display, and telesensory technology. Some statewide high tech centers are also in place. The responses suggest the immense role that computer technology is playing in making a college education accessible to students with disabilities.

Outreach activities 

Community college disability support service programs are involved in a variety of activities to connect with people beyond the campus. By far the most common outreach effort (81.1 percent of respondents) is college collaboration with government vocational rehabilitation agencies. In order, the next areas are: high school counselor outreach (69.3 percent); collaboration with community organizations (56.2 percent); collaboration with non-government vocational rehabilitation agencies (42.8 percent); advisory boards (39.2 percent); accommodation consultation to business (16.7 percent); and parent organization outreach (15.2 percent). 

The consultation services to business may be an example of how DSS professionals continue to help their students meet their needs in the workplace; however it also may be an area that could be developed further under the college's continuing education umbrella.

Many respondents also indicated many other types of outreach activities. They include: coordination with school districts and other higher education institutions, statewide programs, regional consortia, community transition teams, direct outreach to high school students, public information sessions, open houses or festivals, alumni organizations, publications, community workshops, support groups, professional associations, transition fairs, job fairs, and outreach to medical facilities.

Outcomes 

According to the AACC survey, many if not most community colleges do not know much about what happens to their DSS students once they leave the institution. When asked where their students go to work, at least half of the respondents did not answer. Among those who did respond, about a fifth said to "technical" jobs; but nearly another fifth answered "don't know." As for further education, about a fifth indicated that their DSS students went on to four-year colleges and universities. Again, many respondents simply did not know. 

Tracking 

Respondents were asked the open-ended question, How do you track outcomes of your students with disabilities? Tracking outcomes continues to be problemmatic. Few institutions have systematic mechanisms in place to track their DSS students after they leave the college. Some tie into statewide information systems. Most community colleges, however, keep track of their DSS students primarily through student records while they are enrolled, and not when they leave the institution. Some institutions use a variety of follow-up surveys, some through alumni or job placement offices. Responses suggest the following approaches to student tracking: student surveys (ranging from 30-day to one or more years after departure); informal methods including word-of-mouth; job placement/career counseling offices; personal contact including telephone, home visits, or letters; student self-reports; exit interviews or questionnaires; or contacts with rehabilitation services. Less frequent approaches include university contacts, transfer records, or employer surveys. 

Summary

The implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with the maturing of mainstreamed students in K-12 classes, has led community colleges to strengthen their disability support services programs -- or to shape new ones. Many approaches are becoming institutionalized. Adaptive technology and related computer or learning labs are now the norm. Cooperative arrangements are increasing between community colleges and their local schools, community groups, rehabilitation agencies, and employers. As community colleges continue their mission of open access to all community members, and with the aging of the population as a whole, it is possible that these institutions will service increasing numbers of students with disabilities. Institutions will be called increasingly to document and assess the cost effectiveness and quality of their programs and services. Although some colleges have begun tracking and outcomes measures, there still is much to be in the area of DSS program evaluation. 

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