Fresno State Disabilities Office continues its goals of helping students

Services for Students with Disabilities office inside the Henry Madden Library. (Armando Carreno/The Collegian)

Most Fresno State students have the goal to get a degree in the area that they are pursuing. But for students with special needs, that goal may not be as easy. 

To make that goal easier for those students, Fresno State has the Services for SSD, located in the Henry Madden Library.

Founded in 1973, the SSD  serves as “A resource for students with disabilities to achieve academic, cultural and social excellence,” according to the SSD mission statement.

“We serve any disability with a diagnosis,” said SSD director Jeannie Johnson. “If there is a barrier to attending school and they have a disability, they will be providing accommodations.”

Johnson is the administrator of the SSD program, making sure that students’ concerns about accessibility are addressed on campus. She also oversees finances and sits on the President’s Committee on Disability and Access (PCDA) and Accessible Technology Initiative (ATI).

“We serve students with a variety of disabilities, including ADHD, ADD, deaf, chronic illnesses, cancer, mobility impairments, mental health, and many more,” Johnson said. “We also provide temporary services for students, including someone who breaks their leg for example.”

There are nine full-time staff members at the SSD office. These include Johnson herself, in addition to an accommodation specialist, two counselors, an assistive technology coordinator, a reading coordinator, a testing coordinator, a program assistant that handles the day-to-day activities of the SSD office, and a lead interpretive coordinator. 

The counselors are the first to meet with students, and they help start services for the students. The assistive technology coordinator teaches students how to use technology based accommodations, and the testing coordinator is responsible for ensuring that every exam is in the right format and has arrived at the SSD office prior to a student taking that exam. 

In addition, the reading coordinator does research on books for a student’s classes and makes sure they are in accessible formats. The lead interpretive coordinator makes sure a student’s request for interpreters is fulfilled.

There are three positions for students at the SSD office. Students can work at the front desk, where they handle appointments to see staff members, as well as handle anything pertaining to the calendar and filing. Students also work in the testing department, by serving as proctors for tests, communicating with instructors about getting exams into the SSD office if necessary, and checking on students while they are testing. Students also serve SSD’s lab production team, where instructional material is converted into accessible formats.

Johnson also acknowledges some of the challenges involving SSD, including the demand for interpreting services. 

“We have lots of interpreters, but they’re part time. We’re doing what we need to do in order to help students,” said Johnson. “But those students are becoming more active on campus, and with the limited availability of interpreters, we have to do a little bit of outsourcing outside of campus.”

Another challenge that the SSD office deals with is that of awareness. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 11.3 percent of undergraduates in college report one or more disabilities. SSD currently serves 3.3 percent of Fresno State students.

Johnson recalled a personal example about how she found out about the SSD office. “I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was a student at Fresno State,” she said. “I was at the point where I couldn’t make a fist, and it was very painful for me to do that.” 

“It took a year and a half to get diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I went to the health center when it got worse, and they did a blood test and discovered I had rheumatoid arthritis,” Johnson added. 

“I never really knew it existed until I was in graduate school. It would be nice for faculty and staff to be aware, so that way if students talk about the disabilities with friends or staff, that they can receive services with SSD,” Johnson said.

In order to set up services with the SSD office, a student first needs to self-identify as having a disability, in addition to having documentation that confirms that they have a disability. The documentation can be in the forms of an IEP, or Individualized Educational Plan, or a 504. 

Then, the student meets with one of the two counselors, and in that meeting, they discuss the student’s disability, functional limitations, and any other issues. Afterward, the counselor and the student come up with an accommodation plan based on what they feel like would allow the student to reach the same amount of success to that of their peers. 

After that, the student can write down all their classes and list the appropriate accommodations that they would need for that class. Later, the SSD office provides the student with letters in which the student can deliver to their instructors. These letters list all the necessary accommodations that the student needs.

There are a variety of services that SSD provides, including reading services, note-taking services, testing services, counseling, accessible furniture, and SCOUT transportation.

With reading services, instructional materials can be provided to students in an accessible format. According to Johnson, “A lot of students use text to speech, and ‘Read and Write.’” Read and write allows students to hear text spoken.

There are also various note taking services, including a volunteer note taker. With the volunteer note taker, the instructor will ask for a note taker but not mention who needs the note taker. The SSD office also provides digital recorders and the LiveScribe pen, in which the latter can record lectures while the student is writing information down. The LiveScribe pen does require a specific notebook.

In addition, the SSD office provides services to help students when it comes to test taking. These services include extended time on exams, accessible formats, enlarging the text, blue paper, adjustable tables. Also, some students can have someone read the test out loud to them, or write down everything that the student says.

The SSD office also has two counselors, who in addition to setting up accommodation plans with the student, can help students with problem solving or any concerns involving classes.

Other services that the SSD provides include SCOUT transportation, and adjustable furniture in the classroom. With SCOUT transportation, the SSD office provides a schedule so drivers will know where to be at what time in the day. Afterward, Fresno State’s Traffic Operations go around and pick up students, and take them to where they need to be. 

If the student wants to use adjustable furniture, the student needs to communicate with SSD if they need furniture. Accessible furniture is meant for students who are not be able to use normal furniture, and allows for those students to accomplish tasks that involve the use of furniture, such as taking notes for example.

The Services for Students with Disabilities office is located in the Henry Madden Library, Room 1202. Their office is open Monday through Friday from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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