Every day Bettie Plouffe, one of the 362 disabled students registered with Disabled Students Programs and Services faces difficulties getting into the classrooms on the Yuba College campus.
She is diagnosed with Progressive Spastic Dystonia which causes her muscles to twist and contract involuntarily into awkward positions. Her limbs are spastic, tight and not easily moved apart. It is almost impossible for her to open her fingers and she has to move around campus with an electric wheelchair.
When interviewed about the accommodations available to her on campus, she replied, “For the most part, this campus has accommodated me well.” Bettie uses the test proctoring and note taking assistance that DSPS provides.
Accommodations are given as they pertain to the individual’s own disability. When the disabled student makes contact with the DSPS office can be schedule the student with the accommodation that meets their needs.
Joanna Frost the DSPS program specialist remarked “Students have to make the initial contact to receive the service we provide. Accommodations depend on the students’ individual disability and a disability specialist will match the accommodation based on the functional limitations of the students’ disability.”
DSPS at Yuba Community College provides the disabled student with a number of options for services. This includes programs that provide interpreters for deaf students or scribes for students unable to take notes and test proctoring. They can convert all sorts of files to Mp3 format including Books, CDs, brail books, and other alternate forms of media.
Multiple types of adaptive software that DSPS has available help visually impaired students and students unable type work on the computers, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, a software program that will type as the student speaks.
The availability of these computers on campus is very low, with the DSPS office, EOPS, and the Library being the only places on campus containing a computer with the software. However, DSPS has a “smart cart” a portable cart containing a computer will all the adaptive software loaded on it. That can be wheeled to any classroom in need of its services.
For students in wheelchairs like Bettie Plouffe, the classrooms themselves present problem. “I have no desk to sit at in my psychology class, and I have to end up balancing all of my books, paper, and binder on my lap. Then to top it all off I have to balance them on my uneven legs and try to take notes. It is not very good for me to have to balance things and struggle to see things on lecture screen at the same time. It’s not very helpful for wheelchair-bound individuals.”
DSPS learning disabilities specialist, Therese Hukill-DeRock stated “There are some unresolved issues with students that have wheelchairs or have difficulty getting around campus with regards to opening doors and getting around the furnished class rooms. Some of the older classrooms have smaller desks and chairs and students that have back problems have difficulty sitting in the chairs.”
Carolyn Akers, the Adaptive Physical Education instructor spoke on how the recent budget cuts would affect her program. Carolyn hires paid student “Adaptive Aids” through the DSPS Funding. DSPS funds she is unable to hire any students for the 2009 academic year. This is a loss of jobs for students who have been working with the disabled for many semesters.
When asked about the relatively new Adaptive P.E. Gym Carolyn presented the scratches on the hallway walls and the doors where people in wheels chairs have tried to squeeze through. “Some thresholds in the doorways are higher than they should be, and radius of the doors’ swing is not large for wheel chairs to be adequately accessible.” She also mentioned that they left out double doors and a large enough path to move equipment safely around.
Any institution that receives federal funding has to be in compliance with the American Disabilities Act. ADA became law in 1990 and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Joanna Frost stated that, “We comply with The Americans with Disabilities Act and Workforce and Rehabilitation act of 1973. We are on the technology committee of Yuba Community campus to insure that the infrastructure includes access to students with disabilities.”
And the California Education Code states “Students with disabilities shall be assisted to participate whenever possible in the regular educational programs in the District…The services to be provided include, but are not limited to, reasonable accommodations, academic adjustments, accessible facilities, equipment, instructional programs, rehabilitation counseling and academic counseling…”
Safety is always an issue and for the disabled, it becomes even more of a priority due to problems with mobility and communication.
Melody Leslie program specialist and interpreter for DSPS remarked about safety protocols that “One time an armed man threatened to do a “Virginia school shooting” on April 4, 2007 and we were told to allow students to leave if they didn’t feel safe staying. Again, it was all by word of mouth, which does not include the deaf students. If they don’t happen to be near a person who can sign, they have to try and find someone that can to find out what is going on.”
Next year, budget cuts could mean a reduction in categorical programs such as The Disabled Students Program and Services. The percentage reduction could range up to a 4% cut in DSPS funds for the 2009 period.
The Director of DSPS Jan Ponticelli, “We are cutting tutoring, paid note takers, paid students aids; we might have to cut back on printing costs, having students to print less, when they use our office.”
The President is trying to dampen the effect of the reduction next year by absorbing some of the reduction this year. “We have chosen not to lay off faculty and cut non essential programs furthest away from the classroom at this time.”
Chancellor Dr. Nikki Harrington spoke further on this subject, “We are planning ahead with the latest information that we have and on the budget and make adjustments as new information is adopted until the budget is finalized in May.”
She then talked briefly about Measure J, a bond providing funding for remodeling projects for the next five years. These projects include a new Allied Health and Public Safety Training building to be built within the five year span.
The Chancellor remarked “In any building remodeling that we do and in any new construction planning processes, we make sure to include any aspects that are needed for accommodation. We have a full time Director of Disabled Students Programs and Services that will look at the remodeling plans, to make sure they are ADA compatible.”
Yuba College has a solid DSPS program and staff. They provide ample technology and informational assistance to the disabled students on campus. Where the majority of the issues remain is not with the DSPS program, but inside the classrooms themselves. There is a lack of accessible desks and entryway is often difficult into the classrooms for students with disabilities.
Bettie Plouffe cannot even open her hand wide enough to grab hold of the doors, and with the door in the way, the entryway is hardly big enough for her to fit her wheelchair through, and once inside she has to navigate around the desks, which at times can be impossible. She commented that she once had to take a health class where she had to stay outside of the classroom with the door open in order to participate.
With new construction occurring around campus, it is hoped that access into the classrooms will be a priority, making the Yuba College an even more accessible college for all students.