The Office of Disability Services works to improve student accessibility during interim period

The Office of Disability Services and Geneseo Testing Center (pictured above) is currently run by Interim Disability Services Coordinator Leah Houk as the college searches for a permanent position holder (Catherine White/former Editor in Chief).

Previous long-time director of the Office of Disability Services, Tabatha Buggie-Hunt, left the college on Nov. 21 of last year. Since then, former Academic Planning and Advising Office member, Leah Houk, has been serving as Interim Disability Services Coordinator while the vacancy remains.

Under former leadership, the office has been open to criticism since 2012 when a self-study report by former college president Christopher Dahl indicated there were concerns from students and faculty on the lack of support from the office to students. 

Various students who use the office have expressed concern with its value, according to an Oct. 18 article published last year in The Lamron.

According to a Dec. 6, 2019 article that ran in The Lamron, administration instigated a dialogue to understand how the office can better serve the community with the Association on Higher Education and Disability, seeking consultation. 

A consultant from that organization visited the college last spring to assess how resources should be allocated. The search to fill the position in the disability office was postponed until this fall because of new established guidelines, according to Cecilia Easton, Dean of Academic Planning and Advising, published in that same article of The Lamron last December. 

“We’re super excited to get a new assistant dean in here and we’re casting the net wide,” Houk said. “We’re really looking for somebody who has big-picture thinking, compassion and really good people skills. We hope to find somebody who possesses the skill set needed to work with organizations and to promote change in a positive way, all in an attempt to change the branding of the office.”

Houk said that the college is looking to change the name of the office to Accessibility Services. The new hire will also function under a new title, the assistant dean for accessibility.

“There are quite a few applicants at this point,” Houk said. “We’re hoping to get somebody in by January this year. The committee is really excited to hear what [candidates] can bring to the table.”

The assistant dean for accessibility will be the primary administrator for the Office of Accessibility Services and will manage the testing center. The assistant dean will work with faculty and staff across the campus to “advocate for students, explain accommodations and educate members of the Geneseo community about legal issues for disability services in higher education and the College’s commitment to providing access to students requesting academic and non-academic accommodations,” according to the job posting. 

“I just want students to know that even though there has been a lot of transition in this office, we are here to support them,” Houk said. “If students have anything that they want to bring to our attention, anything at all really; my door is open I’m really here to support students and to advocate for them, to work with them and their professors, and help them feel like better self advocates.”

During this transition stage of the office, the current staff consists only of Houk and an interim secretary. 

“We absolutely would like to get more staff in here, it’s just a process of figuring out what that looks like and different things,” Houk said. “For the moment we’re just focusing on those two positions. We have a couple of interns this semester also who are really wonderful and we have students and staff who proctor exams and who help out with paperwork and orient students to things. So they’re a huge help.”

The office has also received support from various other faculty and campus leaders such as the Dean of Students, the Dean of Academic Planning and Advising, and the Lauderdale Health Center staff. Academic peer mentors, who work closely with students on various skills, have also been a great resource during this interim period, according to Houk. 

“[Academic peer mentors] offer study skills, time management skills, help with DegreeWorks and other things students may need support with,” Houk said. “A lot of students are coming into college and they needed more support in high school and then when they get to college they’re like ‘Ah! I’m on my own, what do I do?” So it’s really important to have that support for them in other ways and so our Peer mentors are one facet of that.”

Houk said academic peer mentors have drop-in hours from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Erwin 106. 

“We also have two interns,” Houk said. “They are accessibility advocates and they hold office hours. They are specifically focused on helping students advocate for themselves with their faculty and helping them understand the testing center process, just helping them navigate and transition from high school to college.”

According to Houk, the interns were former interns in the Academic Planning and Advising Department who now assist students. They hold hours on Mondays and Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Erwin 106. 

Another change that has already begun in the office has reworked the letters of accommodation request process. 

“Instead of having students come and request their letters of accommodation, which they used to have to do each semester and come back a few days later to pick them up, we have emailed all of the letters and instructions for the testing center directly to the students,” Houk said. “A lot of students have found this much simpler and easier.”