MU, Missouri colleges strive for campus accessibility

The changes were a result of the 2008 amendment to the ADA.

Sociology professor Wayne Brekhus saw the power of someone who helps people with disabilities during his lecture.

“She would not only interpret the words, but if I was really animated about a point or enthusiastic she would demonstrate, make bigger arm motions,” Brekhus said about a sign-language interpreter who helps a student in his class. “It was sort of interesting to have someone signing the things you’re saying in class. It was not at all disruptive in anyway, so I thought it was great.”

Brekhus’ experience is mirrored by many as college campuses nationwide have become more accessible for students with disabilities. This is largely due to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which was amended in 2008. The improvements also came from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, which was amended in 1997.

The ADA states no qualified individual person will be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs or public activities or be subjected to discrimination. IDEA reformed education for students up to the age of 21.

MU Disability Services Director Barbara Hammer said there are more disabled students at MU this year than she has seen in the past 10 years, and MU ADA coordinator Lee Henson agreed.

“I think more people with disabilities are encouraged to go to college since they have had more rights and advantages under the IDEA and the ADA,” Henson said. “My guess is that people with disabilities feel that there are support systems and that the legal system is encouraging them to look forward to a brighter future, and they’re getting more encouragement than they’re used to.”

At MU, students with disabilities are provided with a variety of accommodations through the Office of Disability Services to help them succeed. The office addresses mobility and dexterity, psychological, hearing, vision and learning disabilities with accommodations specified to the student’s needs.

Students may benefit from classroom assistants, note-takers, readers, scribes, time extensions on tests and alternative formatting of classroom materials.

“Mizzou has a long history of being one of the most accessible campuses,” said Linda Baker, executive director of the Governor's Council on Disability.

Disabled students may also find helpful resources at the Student Success Center. The center offers a program called TRiO CATS, a U.S. Department of Education funded program to help first-generation, low-income and disabled students.

The program provides one-on-one study sessions with tutors trained to address a student’s specific needs.

“The campus as a whole is very aware of the need to make sure these students have access to higher education,” TRiO CATS Program Director Carol Howald said.

Although the TRiO Cats program is federally funded, the university sponsors other services for students with disabilities. The Office of Disability Services receives funds from the general operating funds to pay for needed accommodations.

“We do get very good support from administration through the university here,” Hammer said.

A 2009 survey conducted by the MU Persons with Disabilities Committee found 54 percent of employees with a disability rated campus accessibility as excellent or good.

“Only 20 percent of respondents with a disability felt that the University was effective in responding to complaints and concerns about job problems or discrimination based on a disability,” according to the 2009 Faculty/Staff Survey on Disability Prevalence, Awareness and Accessibility at MU.

The Persons with Disabilities Committee is seeking to change the way people and the university view disability, according to Hammer.

In order to execute these changes, the committee started ACCESS Mizzou, an initiative to promote a welcoming and inclusive environment for people with disabilities.

“We’re trying to find some ways to make as sure as we can be that people with disabilities get a full opportunity to participate in the school system just as others do, try to break down barriers of isolation and misunderstanding,” Henson said.

The committee is working for the adoption of an accessibility program or a commitment from the university to use and buy programs, services, software and equipment that meet accessibility standards under the ADA.

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