Editor’s note: This column was written before the closure of the UT campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Its content may or may not reflect the current reality of student life on campus. We believe it is important to share this column to shed light on issues around campus and to honor the work of its author.
Thousands of students are registered with Services for Students with Disabilities each year. The majority of those students are receiving accommodations for the first time. But for many of those students, exclusionary barriers prevent them from receiving them in time. Even when students know about accommodations, the process of receiving them and implementing them in the classroom can be difficult.
Accommodations are resources that ensure students with disabilities have equal opportunities in classrooms. While accommodations can be helpful, the process of receiving accommodations needs to be made easier. Streamlining the accommodations process will make sure students who need accommodations receive them.
Once students learn about accommodations, they face the daunting task of submitting the proper paperwork so they can schedule an intake appointment. Before the appointment, the student’s health care provider has to fill out a verification form. This process can be lengthy, especially for students who haven’t received accommodations before or have to visit a new doctor. SSD does not have in-house physicians who can perform verifications for students seeking accommodations, so acquiring verification can be cost prohibitive for students without insurance.
Autumn Lanning, history and government sophomore, experienced difficulties when requesting her accommodations.
“It’s been an arduous process to even start getting the paperwork in,” Lanning said. “There are so many different steps to even just start talking about accommodations.”
Once the paperwork is complete, it typically takes a few days for SSD to review the documentation before students can schedule an intake appointment.
That doesn’t mean students are able to meet with someone in a few days, though. SSD assistant director Emily Shryock said the goal is to get students appointments within two weeks, but it isn’t always possible during peak demand times.
“At the start of the semester it can get a little longer because of … more students who are wanting to set up those appointments,” Shryock said.
Altogether, it can take weeks or months before students are able to access accommodations at all.
“It’s just this cycle that makes it really difficult to get accommodations and get accommodations in time before your grades suffer,” Lanning said.
Once students have completed the intake process and received their accommodations, they then have to go online to request the accommodation letters for each class so they can deliver them and discuss their accommodations with professors. The process is unnecessarily lengthy and delays when students are able to use accommodations.
It is clear that this process needs to be amended to better serve students with disabilities.
First, SSD needs to be more active in the disability verification process. Medication or proof of past accommodations could be used as a proxy for a doctor’s verification. Or, SSD could provide in-house physicians for the verifications.
Second, because the process of obtaining accommodations can last an extensive amount of time, there needs to be interim accommodations for students waiting for the review of their documents and intake appointment.
Third, students should not have to request their accommodation letters each semester. Accommodations should be automatically sent to professors with an opt-out system for students who do not want to send their letters to certain instructors. Allowing students to opt out of their accommodations preserves student choice while making the professor notification process quicker and easier.
Students with disabilities should not have to jump through hoops to receive accommodations. The current process hinders the accessibility of the resources meant to ensure equal opportunity and access. When it comes to advocating for students with disabilities, the rhetoric of better late than never is unacceptable. Providing resources to disabled students isn’t effective if the processes surrounding their application are exclusionary.
Williams is an international business junior from Fort Worth.