Accessing All Abilities

Published by The Critograph on Jan. 25, 2017
Katherine Graves, Copy Desk Chief-

Lynchburg College’s Disability Services provides academic, housing and dietary accommodations for students with documented cognitive, mental health, physical and medical disabilities.

Julia Timmons, the Disability Services coordinator, stated that LC follows the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual” for six months or longer. To receive accommodations, students also must provide documentation of the disability.

“The philosophy that I try to share with students is: I don’t like the word ‘disability’ because it means ‘not ability.’ I think every person and the way their brain processes is unique. And we with identified disabilities just happen to fall on the outside edges of the normative curve, but who is to say what’s normal? It’s an average, and because my processing of information is different than yours, it’s more about access than it is about not having an ability. The national trend is to move away from using the word ‘disability’ and move toward ‘accessibility,'” said Timmons, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and an auditory processing disorder herself.

Timmons stated that she seeks to provide accommodations to provide students with disabilities equal access to the college’s resources, as the other students.

The average QPA of students who sought accommodations has ranged consistently between 2.8 and 3.0, said Timmons.

Examples of disabilities that students can receive accommodation for are dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, blindness, hearing impairment, diabetes and food allergies.

Disability Services also assists students with temporary injuries such as concussions.

LC does not offer classes specifically for students with disabilities.

Disability Services also does not provide assistance to students who are pregnant and international students who need assistance with English as a Second Language (ESL) learning. Pregnant students can contact Human Resources to attain accommodations. International students can receive accommodations through International Students Services.

Timmons said that students may not seek accommodations because they want to start a new leaf in college, while some students start college with accommodations for their disability and then later decide that they would not like to use their accommodations.

“My goal as I work with students through our services is to do everything I can to connect them with resources to become independent self-advocates, knowing when it’s important to say I need this support and I’m entitled to it,” said Timmons.

Timmons stated that she works directly with Resident Life and Dining Services to provide students with accommodations.

LC’s Dining Services is a self-service dining service, so they can easily cater to students’ dietary needs. Dining Services and Disability Services provide students with dietary needs with their own area in the cafeteria that they have termed “the pantry,” said Timmons.

This area is located in the dishwashing area and provides students with a contamination free zone where they can prepare their food. There, the students are provided with food alternatives such as gluten-free bread, cashew butter and allergen-free frozen meals. Timmons stated that no one should bring items that may contain food allergens, such as gluten or peanuts, into the area.

“Anybody can go in that area. We’re just striving to keep that area as contamination-free as possible for those students,” Timmons said. “We have some students with really serious combination food allergy sensitivities that are successfully eating in the Dining Hall,” stated Timmons.

Students with food allergies are told to speak to specific food staff when they have questions. The cooking staff has been taught to cook with standards that avoid cross-contamination.

“They’re just phenomenal in working with students,” said Timmons of the Dining Service’s staff.

Timmons praised Dining Services and Residence Life for their help in providing students with accommodations.

Housing is the only type of accommodation has a deadline that students must to ensure that they receive it. The deadline for housing accommodations will be announced when the standard housing process is announced this semester, said Timmons, who approves students to receive single rooms. Students may be placed on a wait list for available housing if they try to receive housing accommodations at other times.

As far as confidentiality, professors cannot ask Disability Services about a student’s disability. Resident Life and Dining Services have access to information about students’ disabilities if they receive accommodations from either service.

Timmons stated of the school’s wheelchair accessibility, “All of our buildings are accessible physically except for Carnegie.”

Timmons said that, with students with hearing or seeing disabilities, she may grant accommodations for equipment, software or materials that make the class information more accessible to the students. LC will also provide online classes for hearing or visually impaired students.

A student with a service animal currently attends LC. Timmons stated that she contacted the student’s roommates and faculty, security, environmental controls and Resident Life so that no one would question the student having the service animal on campus. Timmons stated that service animals are always dogs.

LC also allows students to have emotional support animals. Timmons stated that six students on campus currently have support animals of varying species.

“Emotional support animals are provided for students with mental health disabilities who meet the criteria,” said Timmons.

Students who are seeking to have an emotional support animal should notify Disability Services 60 days before the beginning of the college term.

Timmons stated that the college will still consider proposals for an emotional support animal after that period, but since the process is complicated, the proposal may not be accepted if it is submitted close to the beginning of the term.

Timmons stated that students with mental health disabilities may have difficulties if they need to miss class.

“The more active [the class], the more necessary it is for you to be there to gain the experience,” Timmons said of the difficulties of needing to miss class, such as a lab.

Timmons stated that she speaks to faculty on the behalf of each student with a disability. Faculty makes the final decisions about how students’ absences affect their performance in classes.

Timmons encourages students who may have difficulties following attendance policies to go to class and communicate with their professors.

Students with accommodations may be allowed to drop a class late if they have been speaking with Timmons. Students cannot come to her seeking a late withdrawal without having previously met with her.

The process of getting accommodations is similar for those with any type of disability.

To gain accommodations, students need to fill out the necessary forms for their disability, provide documentation of their disability and meet with Timmons to discuss their individual needs and how they can be met by accommodations.

To begin this process, students can email Timmons or fill out an accommodation form that can be found on the LC website. If students contact Timmons by email, she will let them know the types of forms they need to fill out. Students may also get in contact with Timmons when a professor refers them to her.

After filling out the necessary forms, students then seek documentation of their disability from a medical professional.

After these steps, students meet with Timmons to discuss possible accommodations.

Timmons stated that before her meetings with students, she tries to understand students’ disabilities through a medical perspective with their intake forms and documentations. During the meetings, she tries to understand each individual student’s experience and needs.

“My primary focus as I’m making the decision with a student about accommodations is them and their reflection of ‘These are my strengths and weaknesses. This is how my disability is impacting me. And how can you help me?'” said Timmons.

With academic accommodations, Disability Services provides students with a letter explaining their accommodations. These letters contain nothing about the students’ disabilities. Students then decide how they want to use their accommodations. Students can decide whether or not they want to use their accommodations on each possible assignment and in each class.

If you would like to receive accommodations for a disability, you can contact Timmons by emailing her at timmons.j@lynchburg.edu.

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