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Supportive Services For Disabilities

Asst. Features Editor

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 01:03

The mission of the Disabilities Service Office is to assist students with disabilities at Boston College “in achieving their educational, career, and personal goals through the full range of institutional and community resources.” The office works to ensure that all students with disabilities receive support, services, and accommodations tailored to their specific needs.

Within the Disabilities Service Office, a specialized team works with students who are visually and hearing impaired. Paulette Durrett, assistant dean for students with disabilities, along with graduate assistants Jessica Johnson and Jessica Goldhirsch, works constantly to make sure students with visual and hearing impairment are provided with the necessary equipment and aid to bring them around campus and to foster success in the classroom.

The Disabilities Service Office utilizes resources such as the Bus Shuttle, the Connors Family Learning Center, Eagle Transport, and Counseling Services. They work closely with BCPD to fulfill students’ transportation needs—ensuring they can get on and off campus safely. Students can also be connected with a mobilization specialist to accompany them around campus to help them get their bearings and learn the best routes to class.

Oftentime students with visual or hearing impairment will take their exams in the Disabilities Service Office, where they are provided with a computer, the appropriate software and audio technology, and a comfortable quiet space.

The Disabilities Service Office employs innovative technology. In some cases, texts can be electronically enlarged for students. Additionally, “JAWS” is a screen reading software developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content. JAWS  “reads” aloud what is on the screen. Many visually impaired students have this software on their computers, which makes their material accessible.

The Disabilities Service Office also collaborates heavily with Instructional Design and eTeaching Services to ascertain the technological side of working with disabled students runs smoothly. Beth Clark, director of instructional design and eTeaching services, noted that when her team is advised that there are students with either visual or hearing impairments, they “will work with the faculty who are teaching their courses to assess the materials they are using in class, and advise them on how to make them accessible,” she said. “This involves materials such as ones available through Blackboard Vista and/or course reserves.” Instructional Design and eTeaching Services, in tandem with the Disabilities Service Office, work in conjunction with the University Libraries and Media Technology Services to facilitate a seamless distribution of services and materials to students and faculty.

“We work very closely with O’Neill Library to make sure articles and books are available for students when they need it,” Durrett said. Betsy McKelvey, head of the digital Library programs and Naomi Rubin, digital imaging assistant, work with a team of work-study students on the second floor of O’Neill, utilizing innovative technology to digitize text. In the lab, they use a Zeutschel scanner, a machine that makes it possible to digitize even the most sensitive materials at high processing speeds. Although this digital technology is used for many other purposes, it is convenient for the digitization process for visually impaired students. The ABBYY FineReader software they have allows them to turn the scans into searchable and editable formats. The audio composed can then be read on the students’ JAWS computer program. “We have the equipment, the scanners, and ABBYY. We are a production facility—like people would go to a printing press; we are providing that sort of production service,” Rubin said.  

A very significant amount of coordination and organizing goes into making sure each disabled student is accommodated. Many students with disabilities are accompanied in their classes by a note taker, and in some cases a reader (who is usually a diligent student in the class hired to describe to the student what is being taught, whether it is a graph or a map, or an equation).

For hearing impaired students, the Disabilities Service Office hires American Sign Language Interpreters. The ASL interpreters must be certified by the state, and it is preferable that they be nationally certified as well. ASL interpreters will also accompany students to appointments and events outside of their class schedule—professor office hours or sessions on thesis writing.   

On top of technological and functional care, Durrett and her team work to provide a personalized plan for each student with a disability. “One of the things that this unit tries to do and I think we do a good job with it, is meet the student where they are and try to work with them to get the services to them,” Durrett said. She noted that there is a wide range of student personalities and their diligence in receiving the care that is available to them. Students are always welcome to drop into Durrett’s office if they are having an issue, but some are less proactive about utilizing all the resources at their fingertips. In this case, Durrett will call the student to review his or her course schedule, and try to anticipate any kinds of issues that might arise in prohibiting he or she from keeping up with the rest of the class. “It’s a balancing act,” Durrett said. “For the student who is floundering, we work with them on a calendar, and when they come to our office we make sure we are prepared for them.”

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