All college disability services offices in New York State are represented by the New York State Disability Services Council (NYSDSC). Together, they advocate on behalf of students and campus resource centers to better achieve equal access in post-secondary higher education.
In June and November, the NYSDSC hosts two annual conferences. The programming is designed to spark discussions on the issues and trends impacting disability services offices both state-wide and amongst individual educational sectors: SUNY, CUNY, proprietary institutions, and independent institutions.
Most recently, the 2019 June conference was held at a nationally significant historic
landmark, ‘Hotel Henry’, in the heart of downtown Buffalo. What is now an architectural legacy, Hotel Henry was previously known as the ‘Buffalo Asylum for the Insane’. Built in 1880, the psychiatric institution housed many of Western New York’s mentally ill and holds an eerie reputation for patient cruelty and isolation. The venue was a befitting reminder to the work of disability activism, and inspired new conversations and concerns on the intersection of mental health and disability accommodations.
In the past couple of years, disability services professionals have better identified functional limitations of mental health on college campuses. Such barriers can include having difficulty with medication side effects, sustaining concentration in class and on assignments, interacting and collaborating with others, and physical and emotional stress during tests. There has been significant progress in adapting consultation methods to incorporate what is known as the interactive method. The interactive method is a process that steers clear from diagnosing a student and focuses on educational barriers as it pertains to mental health. As more students identify as having invisible disabilities, this process is becoming essential to accommodating students for their specific needs while also protecting limited resources on college campuses, particularly in residence halls. Overall, the process has proven to be effective and the conference served as a forum for sharing student interaction techniques.
While mental health was a central topic at the June conference, programming also aimed to educate disability professionals on allyship, particularly, among the LGBTQIA+ community. As more students continue to identify as LGBTQIA+, more students face the risks of discrimination and prejudice. These societal factors have contributed significantly to the mental health crisis on college campuses. As a result, attendees were taught the fundamentals of varying identities, ways in which they can better accommodate LGBTQIA+ students, and advocacy methods to improve understanding and acceptance within their communities.
While disability services offices across the state showed their continued dedication to equal access, one shared concern was held- funding. During the SUNY sector committee meeting, four main issues were identified on state-operated
and community college campuses:
More students with disabilities are enrolling in higher education; however, accommodation resources are limited,
Financial support is needed to fund summer programming that prepares high-school students for post-secondary education,
A severe lack of research and data on students with disabilities and disability services offices, and
A lack of resources to provide disability training to faculty and staff.
To remediate these obstacles, NYSDSC is lobbying for a statewide $15 million budget increase for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. This funding would have a significant impact on all disability services offices in New York State and particularly for students with disabilities. To show your support for the cause, please encourage your campus communities to attend the New York Coalition for Students with Disabilities Day in February 2020. More information will be released soon on the NYSDSC website: http://www.nysdsc.org/Events.
Written by Georgia Hulbert, student leader at the University at Buffalo