Story and photo by WENDY DANG
The fact that the University of Utah has an office for students who need assistance in class with physical or mental disabilities is not a well-kept secret. The Center for Disability Services is working hard to ensure every student has an equal opportunity to further their education.
Chris Burningham says his responsibilities as a disabilities adviser at the CDS include starting incoming students on the processes of applying for services they may require, such as getting textbooks in Braille or American Sign Language interpreters to sign class lectures.
After scheduling an appointment to talk with an adviser and completing all of the paperwork, students must provide the necessary documentation from doctors or therapists that clearly state the restrictions of their disability.
“It’s a clear process throughout the office to take each student on a case-by-case basis,” Burningham said. “The (more complicated) disabilities aren’t usually like the last (ones we’ve dealt with) and we try to accommodate as best we can.”
The CDS can provide extra time or a quiet place to take a test, convert textbooks to Braille or audio recordings, or even offer early registration for classes to students who might need to consider the accessibility of a classroom.
“If a student using a wheelchair can’t physically get into a classroom, we’ll move the class,” Burningham said.
However, the Center for Disabilities Services doesn’t make changes to the course requirements to show preference to students who use their services.
“If a student asks for a note-taker and they have no reason to be missing classes, we say no. They still have to complete all the coursework,” Burningham said. “Now if they request more time to complete the work, that is something we can do.”
Note-taking is a very common service the center provides for students who might have attention deficit disorder, autism or mobility limitations that make it difficult to copy down key points in a lecture.
Shawna Meyer, a senior who is majoring in English, has been a note-taker for the center before.
“It wasn’t any trouble,” she said. “I usually take good notes anyway and I thought ‘Why not? It’s easy money and a good cause.’”
Meyer filled out paperwork in the CDS stating that she agreed to submit her notes to the center. Throughout the semester, Meyer simply copied her notes and sent them to an email address the CDS provided.
“I would send the notes at the end of every week, sometimes every two,” Meyer said.
Of the 1,200 to 1,400 students who are eligible for resources offered by the CDS, only a handful are in the office more than once during a semester.
Burningham said the most basic requests can be handled over email. Students who require more complex services, such as personal campus guides for students who are blind, require daily interaction with the CDS.
“It’s about finding a balance between what we can legally provide and what the student needs to succeed,” Burningham said.
The Center for Disability Services, located in room 162 of the Union building on the south side of the ground floor, just past the pool tables, is currently available for walk-in appointments to students who are currently registered with the center. The office is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m to 5 p.m.