By Christina Cantero
The demand for disability services at Western Michigan University is growing, something that became evident in preparation for Finals Week of the 2014 spring semester as the Disability Services for Students moved its testing site to the Bernhard Center.
Why did the office choose this new location?
“Due to the increasing number of students requiring test accommodations,” read an email from the Office of University Relations.
WMU is not the only university in the United States with a growing demand for disability services. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) reported in 2011 that the number of college students who register with a disability has increased in parallel with additional amendments and services generated from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from 1990.
The growing demand for disability services requires universities to expand their reach accordingly, and looking at the results from the WMU Campus Climate Study from 2013, the disconnect between demand and supply of services to those with registered disabilities at WMU became clear.
The results showed that respondents with a registered disability rated the campus climate lower in terms of equity and inclusion. Increased services on campus might result in an improved perception of the campus climate among individuals with disabilities.
The results also sent a strong message to the administration: The university services need to reach a larger portion of students with disabilities.
The mentioned services aren’t necessarily insufficient in quality, as the office offers individual transportation services, tutoring and individual testing rooms, to name a few. However, quantitatively, the office may not be able to serve the 800+ registered students with disabilities at WMU.
In addition, the office does not provide services for staff, faculty and administrative workers with a registered disability who also participated in the study. This population may have responded with a different perception of the campus climate than students.
Cheryl Roland, the executive director of University Relations at WMU, said faculty, staff and administrative workers with a disability are able to access services through Human Resources.
However, visually impaired faculty member Elaine Mueller said she was never introduced to these services.
“I don’t take advantage of any services,” Mueller said, and noted that while she doesn’t personally like help from others, she also doesn’t remember ever being offered any help from the university itself when she first started teaching.
Looking at the Campus Climate Study, it is clear that this specific demographic that Mueller represents wanted their voices heard in the study, as all of the 21 faculty members from this demographic group participated.
This means that while the university’s disability services need to extend its reach across the growing student population with registered disabilities, WMU also needs to include its faculty, staff and administrative workers in this much-needed expansion process.