Best practices in disability services offices in a metropolitan community college district
Carter, Henry Steven
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The Disability Services Office (DSO) on the campus of a community college allows students with a disability the opportunity to seek assistance in achieving their career and/or educational goal. This assistance often takes the form of counseling support or specific accommodations during the students’ association with the college. The supportive services provided by these offices vary widely as does the need of the individual student, but when students initiate contact with the DSO it can improve their likelihood of success significantly. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and its subsequent amendments mandated all colleges and universities provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities, the methods of engagement, requirements, and resources can vary widely even within the same geopolitical region or within the same district. The purpose of this study was to examine the provision of student services by the DSO within each member institution of a large community college district within the state of Texas. Specific issues targeted by the study included developing an understanding of the process by which incoming students were initially contacted and engaged by the DSO, determining whether faculty and staff were adequately trained in the purposes and responsibilities associated with implementing accommodation plans and identifying students who might benefit from accommodation developing methods of coping within the DSO for changes in type and severity of disabilities among service applicants, and minimizing the perception of negative social stigma associated with seeking support services from the DSO. The study targeted the seven colleges of a large community college district spanning an urban and suburban area. This qualitative study was intended to identify the best practices in dealing with the four defined issues by DSOs in the community colleges within the district. The outcome of the study intended to improve the consistency in the quality of methods, processes, and procedures within the district. Specifically, the study was hoped to provide influence and improve the college experience of students with disabilities. Specifically, the study examined four research questions in areas of improving outreach and application processes, providing training to faculty, developing methods of dealing with more severe disabilities, and minimizing the effects of stigma and social isolation. This qualitative study was conducted with rich thick narratives and a transformative framework. The researcher used the narratives and perceptions of DSO workers engaged in the provision of support services to individuals with disabilities to identify common and varying practices between the college campuses. The long-term benefit of the study would be to develop improved and more consistent methods of meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities who have been historically underrepresented among those with higher education credentials and by improving the quality of methods used within the DSO. Chapter 1 provides perspective on the prevailing economic and social needs to improve the success rates of students with disabilities. Chapter 2 focuses on the social, legal, and educational history of individuals with disabilities and the need to improve these outcomes to the benefit of the economy for educational institutions and for the individual student with a disability. Chapter 3 describes the current qualitative study and details the methods in the gathering of the narratives. Chapter 4 details the results and findings of the study and presents the narratives of participants. Chapter 5 presents discussion of the outcomes of the study with suggestions for further research and suggestions as to how service provision can be influenced by outreach of campus DSOs.