According to a 2007-2008 survey by the United States Census Bureau, nearly eleven percent of undergraduate college students have some sort of disability. The number of students with disabilities enrolling in colleges has increased since the 1970s due to several acts of legislation, starting with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 and followed by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. These laws aim to ensure that those with disabilities would get an equal chance from the start, outlawing the discrimination against an individual with disabilities, in hopes that more would move on to higher education. Twenty-four years after the passing of the ADA, William Jewell College aims to further its accessibility on campus and intends to overhaul and refine completely its disability systems in the influx of potential students.
Jewell began this process in the Fall 2014 by hiring Missy Henry, a former College administrative assistant, to the newly created post of 504 and Compliance Coordinator. This new position is named for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which makes discrimination against persons with disabilities wanting to participate in groups or activities on campus illegal. Henry’s job was created to streamline disability applications, which would formerly have to go through several people, such as Dr. Beth Gentry-Epley in Counseling and Health Services and Tracy Hart and Ernie Stufflebean of the office of Student Life. Before, each was responsible for a certain sector of life for persons with disabilities: Gentry-Epley would read through the applications, then resend them to Hart and Stufflebean, who handled accommodations and residence hall accessibility respectively. Some forms would also have to be sent to Taylor Strecker of Dining Services in case of food allergy-related disabilities. However, Jewell formed the new Disability Services committee in an attempt to streamline the process.
“Our current opportunity to develop a centralized Disability Services will ensure that all qualified individuals will have available and equal access to all College services, activities, programs and educational opportunities,” says Henry.
She now receives all applications, creating a one-step process for accommodating both incoming and current disabled students. Disability Services hopes to create earlier contact with these potential students. Teams of professionals are created in this committee to analyze students on a case-by-case basis to decide how to best accommodate their individual needs, an important measure in today’s broadening definition of disability.
Jewell ruled that any building constructed after June 3, 1977 must be made accessible for disabled students. This includes the Pryor Learning Commons (PLC), the Mabee Center and the White Science Center (WSC). The ruling goes on to states that “all programs and services must be provided in a manner that affords the student maximum integration with his/her non-disabled peers.”
In addition, the new technology hub at the PLC offers help to students with disabilities. Jewell librarian Rebecca Hamlett is a member of the new Disabled Services committee and is currently working on improving study experiences for students with a wide range of disabilities. Most of her work involves helping these students attain alternate formats of required texts.
Scanning is a major aspect of this because Microsoft Word and PDF documents can be converted and digitized into audio form. Until Fall 2013, William Jewell College lacked a scanner with these capabilities and usually outsourced unavailable texts to University of Missouri to be scanned. This process took an average of two to eight weeks. Now that Jewell possesses these capabilities with the opening of the PLC, the scanning process can be completed in one to two days. The College intends to further cut this time down and increase self-sufficiency by looking at software that would allow students with disabilities to scan the documents themselves.
Jewell intends to make more improvements to the system of accommodating students with disabilities. The next step is to create a study station in the PLC that meets ADA requirements. So far, a shorter desk has been set up to accommodate persons using wheelchairs The College plans on making addition to this study station.
Jewell is constantly researching new apps and technology that can be used to improve the study experience. For instance, Hamlett is examining into audio technology that allows students with learning disabilities to follow along with highlighted text while it is being read to them. Other ideas for the station involve using Braille keyboard for the visually impaired. Such reforms would cost an estimated $3,000-$5,000 and is projected by the College to be completed in Spring 2015.