KUDOS: Disability Services

Disability Services
KUDOS: Disability Services

KU's University Relations (UR) office has implemented a new staff and department recognition feature. KUDOS, Kutztown University's Dedication to Outstanding Service, focuses on university administrative departments and the individuals within them, giving the campus community a better look inside many of the working areas on campus.

This week, we sat down with the Disability Services Office to get an inside look at the dedicated individuals who provide accommodations for campus community members with disabilities and are committed to making sure all students have equal educational and participation opportunities.

UR: Can you introduce yourselves and tell us how long you've been with KU?

MS: I'm Megan Sear, graduate assistant and the note-taking coordinator, and this is my second semester at KU.

LF: I'm Linda Feinour, office manager, and I've been at KU six years. I started in Career Development and came to Disability Services in June 2018.

MM: I'm Maggie Mclaughlin Yannes, assistant director and provider of services, and I've been at KU for 10 years as an employee. I'm also a KU graduate.

LL: Linda Lantaff, Director of Disability Services, and I'm in my 15th year at Kutztown and serving my fourth year in the Disability Services Office.

UR: What is your department's role and mission at the university?

LL: We coordinate services and accommodations at Kutztown University for students, employees and university guests. We help individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves and assist the university faculty and staff in providing accommodations for students. We also ensure that policies, programs and facilities facilitate inclusion, as well as provide programs that promote disability awareness.

UR: Can you explain your department's staff make-up and responsibilities?

LL: Our staff is made up of the director, the assistant director and our office manager. We have several graduate assistants that help us run some of our programs and accommodations; for example, a graduate assistant coordinates our note-taking accommodations, another that coordinates the testing center, and several graduate assistants that work with the My Place program for students on the autism spectrum. We also have an undergraduate student worker who helps us around the office and works to make materials accessible for visually impaired students.

MS: In the note-taking program, we get requests from students for each of their classes, and then I recruit students (usually undergraduate but also graduate on occasion) through email or in person and fill those positions. We get about 125-150 note-taking requests a semester. This helps students keep up in class if they need help getting through the lecture.

LF: As the office manager, I'm the glue of the office. I not only schedule appointments for Linda and Maggie, but I also help maintain their calendars and track our students, take care of the budget, work with families and students to explain office procedures, and fill in wherever needed.

MM: I meet with students and do accommodation plans, perform all the initial documentation review, manage all the initial contact with students via mail or email, supervise note-taking and the testing center, and work with students to make sure their materials are accessible in the classroom. I do all the alternative textbook requests for students who may need electronic versions of texts, as well as work with residence hall accommodations. I'm present throughout the whole process. We all wear different hats; when you're a small office working with a lot of students, we all need to be able to fill in a variety of roles.

LL: As the director, I meet with many students and families to create accommodation plans. I am responsible for resolving problems that arise in the provision of accommodations - either with students being able to implement their accommodations, or problems somewhere on campus with how accommodations are carried out. I work with all of our contracted services, such as American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters or Captioning. I also manage the My Place program for students on the autism spectrum and serve as an advisor to Delta Alpha Pi, the honor society for students with disabilities. Our office does many presentations and raises awareness about disabilities both on and off campus. We often work with high school transition coordinators to better prepare students with disabilities for their college experience.

UR: How does your department serve students and the campus community?

MM: We help students advocate for themselves in terms of the accommodations that we've sat down and helped them develop a plan about. We develop and provide accommodation letters, but it's up to students to communicate that plan with their professors. We work with students to set up their plan, but it's up to them to implement that plan. Then, if they have problems, they come to us; if they need access to something, if they're having problems advocating for themselves, if they find themselves in a situation where accommodations are not being provided appropriately, etc. Some students we see all the time, and some students we see once, when they come in for their letter. It all depends on their level of need and how their semester is going.

LL: It's the responsibility of our office to ensure our students have equal access to KU programs, services and facilities.

UR: What are the points of pride in your department?

LL: There are four special programs we feel are unique to our Disability Services Office. The first is the My Place program. We have 16 students on the autism spectrum that participate in the program and are provided extra support to be able to navigate and manage the college experience and prepare themselves for professional employment. We offer a workshop series for students with executive function deficit at the beginning of each fall semester. The program provides a little extra support and instruction on how to organize and be ready for college-level work. We have an active Delta Alpha Pi honor society chapter. And lastly, in conjunction with the Career Development Center, we participate in the workforce recruitment program, which connects federal employers with qualified students with disabilities for internships and professional employment. Several KU students have gotten jobs through this program.

MM: I think we have a really nice testing center. Just from what I've heard from and seen at other schools. I think we are lucky in the space that we have.

MS: The office environment in general is pretty welcoming.

UR: What would you like people to know about your department that they may not know already?

LL: Through a partnership with Housing, KU students have access to a sensory or quiet room. This is a place for students who may become stressed or very anxious to calm themselves down and regroup. If you know students on campus who need this type of resource, all they have to do is contact our office. We also have a quiet sleeping room for students who have disabilities that impact their daytime alertness. This room provides a secure place for commuter students to rest, if necessary.

MM: Because we get a lot of questions like, 'Oh, I didn't realize that my disability would be something that was covered,' I want students to know that if they have a diagnosis that impacts, then it's possible that they can get services in our office. We don't only cover people with physical disabilities, sensory impairments or learning disabilities.

UR: How can the campus community learn more or become involved with your department?

MS: As I mentioned previously, we do hire over 100 note-takers a semester and I usually send those opportunities out to the entire class via email.

MM: Check out our website if you have questions. We have tons of information about how to register with the office, what support services we offer, enhanced services we offer - pretty much anything you would need to know.

LL: In order for Kutztown to provide a welcoming environment for all students, we all have a responsibility for making sure that our campus is accessible. So, we need the help of everyone on campus to report, for example, when streetlights have burnt out, because that causes problems for our visual students, or when automatic doors aren't working correctly, or when something is obstructing hallways and ramps and making them inaccessible for the student who need to use them, etc. Our eyes can't be everywhere, so we count on others to help us in that respect.

UR: What's your favorite thing about your KU experience?

LL: I like the excitement and energy of working on a college campus and working with college-aged students.

LF: I worked at the high school and middle school levels before coming to KU - working at a university was a dream of mine. I enjoy interacting with students who visit our office.

MM: I think it's seeing students who have a hard time in the beginning find success. It's great to see a student who has struggled, graduate or find a path that works for them.

MS: Being a graduate student who works on campus, I think it's really interesting to interact with undergraduates because KU is a vibrant community. There are a lot of students coming from different backgrounds and different majors; it's interesting to interact with them.

UR: What does "It's Good to be Golden" mean to you?

MS: Kutztown is a larger university, but it does have a small-town feel. Everyone knows everyone and they make connections in some way; all the students, faculty and staff are willing to get to know each other and introduce themselves.

MM: I definitely look at this from what my experience was as a student. For me, KU was my home away from home. I'm still close with the people I met during all eight years. No matter where you're coming from, you can find a home here.

LL: For me, it's a sense of pride. I'm proud to tell other people that I work at KU. I think we have remarkable programs, and I love the students.

LF: I grew up close to Kutztown and knew about it, but never came into town. The history of Kutztown makes it very interesting. It's just an enjoyment - there's always something to do on campus and in the surrounding communities. I am proud to be a part of the Golden Bear family.

KUDOS is published twice monthly by the office of University Relations. All issues can be found at www.kutztown.edu/KUDOS. For questions or more information, please contact University Relations at UR@kutztown.edu.