Administration plans changes to disabilities services, increases staff to prepare for finals week

The college is looking to rebrand and improve The Office of Disabilities Services & SUNY Geneseo Testing Center (pictured above) located in Erwin Hall after the retirement of Assistant Dean for Disabilities Services Tabitha Buggie-Hunt. Students have raised issues with a lack of support from the office in the past and some hope this will bring positive changes to how the college approaches accommodations for students with disabilities. The college partnered with national organization AHEAD for consulting purposes to improve guidelines for disabilities services. (Kenji Nagayoshi/staff photographer)

 In preparation for additional assistance by the testing center during finals week, the college looks to revitalize the Office of Disabilities Services to better accommodate student needs after the retirement of long-time Assistant Dean for Disability Services Tabitha Buggie-Hunt.

Buggie-Hunt announced her retirement on Nov. 8 and officially left her position on Nov. 21, according to an email addressed to the campus.

The office received complaints from students in the past claiming a lack of adequate support as well as communication issues, according to an Oct. 18 article in The Lamron.

 Administration began discussing methods to improve services for the office while Buggie-Hunt still maintained her position, according to Dean of Academic Planning and Advising Celia Easton.

Easton explained how the college reached out to the Association on Higher Education and Disability for consultation purposes.

“We have contracted with that company and we’re going to be bringing in a consultant in the spring to see how our organization should be, how the resources should be allocated,” Easton said.

The search for a new director for the office will be postponed until next year, Easton explained, until the college can establish new guidelines for disabilities services.

Meanwhile, an interim coordinator will be instituted on Thursday Dec. 13 until that search can continue, according to Easton.

 Additional secretarial staff will be tasked with helping the office run in the meantime in preparation for finals week, according to Easton.

“Students submit their documentation and then the Office of Disabilities Services provides a letter that they can take to their faculty,” Easton said. “I have signed some of those letters after we have done a collective review of the credentials, so students really should not have seen any slowdown in response during this small period of time when we don’t have a director or coordinator.”

Some students, including business administration major senior Kitrick McCoy, believe this is an opportunity for the college to revitalize how the office runs.

“Geneseo fails to operationalize effective disability inclusion, it is documented and it is prohibitive to student success,” McCoy said.

“I think Buggie-Hunt’s retirement is a turning point for the office. It represents an opportunity to change the office to serve students in the 21st century.”

Over the past few years the office has seen an increase in students, Easton explained. When the department was initially set up, there were 65 students utilizing its services. Now, over 500 students per year use disabilities services, Easton said, a dramatic rate of increase.

“We still have the same number of people running this office and so no promises for everything,” Easton said.

“But we certainly need to think about how resources are allocated since we are serving a lot more students with the office of disabilities services.”

Accommodations provided by the office include advisement, note taking, sign language or oral interpreting, alternative testing—extended time, distraction reduced environment— relocation of class to an accessible location or other accommodations, according to an Oct. 18 article in The Lamron.

 The general approach to how colleges handle disabilities has changed over the past couple of decades, Easton said, explaining a disconnect between students and administration.

“I think it’s time for us to do some rebranding,” Easton said. “Disabilities is a legal federal term, it’s the Americans with Disabilities Act but I think what we talk about at the college are ways to make sure that we are providing equity in education."