Faculty question availability of Disability Services

The Office of Disability Services has unveiled a new workshop meant to support students with disabilities. Many members of the Geneseo faculty speculate, however, that the office may face potential obstacles that could hamper the workshop’s ability to support students with disabilities.

The workshop program was established by the Office of Disability Services on Feb. 1 and executed by Area Coordinator for Putnam, Genesee, Livingston and Monroe residence halls Sawyer Green. Green graduated from Geneseo in 2015 with a M.S.Ed. in Reading and Literacy.

“I wanted to get involved in some way, and I have done a lot of teaching with the RA classes and advanced peer leadership classes on campus,” Green said. “But I wanted to do something that had an education-specific focus, and so I set up a meeting with Dr. Buggie-Hunt and talked with her and set up these workshops.”

Green said she is excited for her first chance to teach students with disabilities, but admits there are many difficulties.

“It’s hard because you don’t really know them super well as individuals and students yet,” Green said. 

In addition to the limited time she spends with these students, Green cites the varied and low student attendance as an issue. She claims the stigma of receiving services for disabilities can make students apprehensive about attending these workshops.

The annual Geneseo budget report for 2015-16 reported a 10 percent decrease in its annual budget for disability services. Its funding for 2016 was $12,042. Dean of Academic Planning, Advising and professor of English Celia Easton claims that ODS has struggled to provide quality services due to this lack of funding. Easton said that ODS has also faced problems due to a lack of staff members and its complexity. 

“Some students have come to me and said they don’t know everything that’s offered through the ODS, and a lot of people don’t even know what it really is,” Easton said. “There are people on campus who might have a disability but are not connected to the office because they don’t want to be labeled.”

Easton said she believes that peer advisors are a simple solution to the isolation those with disabilities face and to the complexity of obtaining services.

“I imagine myself as an 18-year-old coming to campus for the first time, and because so many disabilities are so invisible, I would have no idea if I was the only one who was feeling nervous, or insecure or not sure how to approach a faculty member to ask for help,” Easton said. “Expanding awareness in a positive way—so no one feels like there’s anything to be avoided in getting services through ODS—I think will come when people think that workshops aren’t about your disability, they’re about your ability.”

Assistant Dean for Disability Services Tabitha Buggie-Hunt said that she believes the ODS is adequately meeting the needs of students with disabilities with the resources it currently has.

“We make sure to the best of our ability that students with disabilities have equal access to all programs and activities,” Hunt said. “Everything could always improve—we’d love to have state-of-the-art facilities—but I think we’re doing a pretty good job of making sure the students do have access.”

When asked what improvements she would like to see, Buggie-Hunt said she would like the college to form a centralized learning resource center not just for students with disabilities, but for all students. Buggie-Hunt said that though the workshops run by Green are a step in the right direction, there are problems in finding qualified individuals to volunteer to run it on a consistent basis. Buggie-Hunt was unable to determine if the workshops are actually helping students, as they have not been able to collect data at the workshops.  

Associate professor of education Linda Ware—who has been recognized internationally for her research and scholarship in the field of disability studies—believes that there are many issues not only relating to the ODS, but also to how Geneseo as a school deals with disabled students.

“As of now, the services are based on a rehabilitative model; in other words, it looks to not support individuals with what they need necessarily because there is a ‘menu’ of what supports are. It is very stigmatizing and isolating,” Ware said. “You are really never made to feel that what you are seeking is going to be supported, but instead all that they’re planning to tell you to make you go away is extra time on exams.”

Ware said she believes other higher education institutions, such as Syracuse University, provide better environments for students with disabilities because students and faculty are organized and their offices engage and promote a culture of acceptance for disabled persons.

“On our campus, there is an emphasis to organize clubs based on affinity. This is not the case for disability,” Ware said. “There is a perception that disability is a marginalized subordinate group.”

To comprehensively fix this problem, Ware said that students with disabilities need to be provided with the appropriate tools in order to succeed.

“If someone isn’t coming in with the same starting block, then that means we need to put resources into that person that the other person without disabilities does not need,” Ware said. “In terms of ODS, we talk about equity the same way—nobody is getting special treatment, nobody is getting an advantage. We’re providing tools for everyone to be able to meet their goals.”

Staff writer Kitrick McCoy contributed reporting to this article.