Rutgers Office of Disability Services assists students achieve potential
Imagine having a disability and having to go to class with that disability without university assistance. At Rutgers, this is not a problem due to accommodations provided by the Office of Disability Services.
Rutgers students with disabilities can contact the Office of Disability Services to receive a variety of accommodations for academics and life on campus.
The office provides services for about 1,750 registered undergraduate and graduate students, said Bill Welsh, executive director at the Office of Disability Services.
“Our goal is to provide equal access to students with disabilities so they can participate in school programs, activities and courses just as much as anybody else,” he said.
All accommodations are meant to level the playing field for students with disabilities, Welsh said. They do not modify exams, but rather provide a way for the students to take the exam considering their disability.
Exam accommodations include extra time during the assessments, reduced distraction environments and font enlargements for students with visual impairments, said Carlie Andrews, director at the Office of Disability Services.
Providing additional time and reduced distraction locations are by far the two most common accommodations, she said.
Students with hearing disabilities can get an in-person or remote interpreter with a computer similar to a court reporter typing word for word what the instructor is saying, Andrews said.
American Sign Language and Communication Access Realtime Translation services are also provided for students with hearing impairments, Welsh said.
Some students with visual disabilities can acquire alternative course material such as textbooks with braille writing or in a different font, he said.
For a student to obtain accommodations from the Office of Disability Services, they must first complete a set of criteria, Andrews said.
Students with disabilities need to do an intake with a coordinator so they can create a self-report, she said. They also need documentation from a qualified professional.
“Who that qualified professional is depends on the kind of disability it is that they're reporting," Andrews said. “We are looking for documentation that discusses a student’s functional limitations that would rise to the level of being a significant disability."
Matthew Valentine, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, has worked with the Office of Disability Services throughout his entire college career.
“They are very helpful, and one of the reasons I came to Rutgers versus other schools was the department was very welcoming,” Valentine said.
Valentine has cerebral palsy and receives accommodations from the Office of Disability Services that cater to his disability.
To receive accommodations he filled out a form online, submitted the necessary paperwork and then the office did all the rest, he said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep up in lectures while taking notes, so I have a recorder so I can listen and go back and re-listen to the lecture later on to get anything I missed,” Valentine said.
Valentine uses a recorder for lectures and receives extra time for exams, particularly for essay exams.
Because of the accommodations he receives from the Office of Disability Services, his disability does not affect his academic life, he said.
“Any sort of accommodation you can think of, they have it,” Valentine said. “There is nothing the office could do more, they have every base covered.”
The Office of Disability Services also hires student note-takers to take notes for students who may not be able to make it to class due to a disability.
Cortney Esposito, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, was employed as a student note-taker during her first and second year at Rutgers and took notes for three different classes.
She wrote key points down that the professor said and uploaded them to the correct class under the "Disability Services" Sakai course, she said.
Disabled students have access to the print out notes on Sakai, but they miss important pieces of information in lectures or exam material professors hint at, Esposito said.
“I think note takers are essential, because the disabilities page allows disabled students the same opportunity to get this material even though they are unable to make it into the classroom," she said.
Nick Huber is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @njhuber95Huber.