Ensuring accessibility is everyone’s responsibility

Accessibility for individuals with disabilities is the responsibility of everyone on a college campus. However, this is not always the reality.

Most disability support services (DSS) staff can relate to the fact that students with disabilities are often viewed as “their” students. We do not refer to any other student group as belonging to “that” office. So why are students with disabilities the DSS students?

This article comes from the February/March issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.

Students are the students of the institution, who may need to access various services that the institution provides, and this is no different for a student with a disability. The consequence of doing otherwise is to treat the student differently and have the DSS office act as a case manager for the student.

Students with disabilities have the same expectations as any other student: to be able to complete their program of study successfully and obtain meaningful employment. Here’s some information to help you better understand roles and responsibilities and relevant laws.

What are the relevant laws?

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) protects the rights of individuals with disabilities prohibiting discrimination in various areas such as employment (Title I), education (Title II State & Local Government Activities and Public Transportation) and public accommodations (Title III).

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall “be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Section 508 states: “Individuals with disabilities must be provided with the same level of accessibility to electronic information technology as individuals without disabilities.”

What is the institution’s role?

Your institution must provide reasonable accommodations, which are modifications to academic requirements that are necessary to ensure equal access to qualified individuals. This includes ensuring the virtual and physical accessibility of all programs and services of the institution — classrooms, course content, learning management systems, etc. It’s necessary to identify and maintain the academic and technical standards that are fundamental to providing a quality academic program while ensuring the rights of individuals with disabilities.

The institution has the right to refuse any unreasonable accommodations request, but must be able to select and recommend accommodations that are equally effective. And the institution has the responsibility of informing employees, applicants and students about the process for requesting accommodations, as well as the procedures for the process to appeal the denial of an accommodation.

What is DSS responsible for?

The mission of the DSS office according to the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education is to provide leadership and facilitate equal access to all institutional opportunities for individuals with disabilities. DSS staff are advocates for individuals with disabilities.

The scope of DSS’ work includes developing appropriate and relevant office policies, procedures and practices that address both virtual and physical accessibility; providing individual consultation, accommodations and services for individuals with disabilities; and disseminating information and providing training and consultation to faculty and staff. DSS staff also keeps abreast of pertinent federal and state laws and regulations.

What is the student’s role?

Students have the right to equal access to programs and services, both physical and virtual, offered at the institution that is accessible as it is to their non-disabled peers. But students also have the same obligation as any other student to meet and maintain the institution’s academic and technical standards.

It’s the responsibility of the student to request reasonable accommodations and provide appropriate documentation to support the request. Students also have the responsibility to advocate for their own needs and to seek the information and assistance necessary for them to be effective.

If accommodations are denied, students have the right to appeal the institution’s decision and must be informed of procedures for initiating an appeal.

Collaboration across campus to ensure accessibility for all students is the key to seeing students with disabilities as students of the institution and not individuals who belong to DSS office.

Read the full issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.

About the Author

Glennis Daniels-Bacchus
is associate director of the Student Success Center/ADA coordinator at College of Southern Maryland in La Plata, Maryland.