Passion comes through loud and clear whenever Sophia Garcia, UCC’s Accommodations Specialist Ambassador, explains why she enjoys working with students so much. Garcia, who is currently pursuing an Associates of Arts Oregon Transfer degree at UCC, serves as the friendly face of the Accessibility office.
“I just want students to be empowered through us,” Garcia says. Garcia asserts what she considers to be the best thing about working in Accessibility: “Seeing people succeed when they didn’t think that they could.”
Even though accessibility offices are common across U.S. college campuses, students often fail to reachout for accommodations and support. One of the reasons for this hesitation is privacy concerns. “They think that if they come and tell us that they have ADHD, or they come and tell us that they have anxiety or depression, that we’re going to tell everybody. We don’t tell anybody anything. We just say to instructors that this person is receiving accommodations. Nobody knows what your diagnosis is.”
The failure to use college accessibility assistance is profound, especially when compared to high usage levels among high school students. The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports on their website that “94% of high school students with learning disabilities receive some form of assistance. In contrast, only 17% of college students with learning disabilities take advantage of learning assistance resources at their school.”
The reason for low utilization is confusing because students who graduate high school with accessibility needs are attending college. According to 2014 data from the NCLD, 54% of students with accessibility needs planned on college.
Garcia thinks fear of social stigma may be keeping students away from accessibilities assistance. “I think there’s a lot of students who are worried because they don’t want to be seen differently in a college setting; it’s like going out on your own for the first time and figuring out who you’re going to be now that you’re not mandated to do all these things,” Garcia says.
The Accessibility office works under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The accommodations team is there whenever students need them, but self-advocating is also helpful for receiving the services students need.
Garcia says, “Seeing people learn how to fight for themselves, and fight for their disabilities, and being able to have accommodations is good because you see a lot of people grow and understand what’s going on with them and why they are the way they are.”
Self-advocting is crucial. Insider Higher Ed reported in 2014 that two-thirds of college students fail to receive accessibility assistance “because their colleges don’t know about their disabilities.” Higher Ed also reports that “students often must overcome stigma and ignorance surrounding their disabilities and advocate for themselves, which they’re often not used to doing. The alternative: risk not getting the tools they need to succeed academically.”
Garcia agrees. “A lot of people don’t know they have a disability. You have to reach out and get that help,” Garcia says.
Garcia is open about using accessibility services herself to assist with her courses at UCC. “I mean, I receive services. Nobody knows why I do. I get extended time on my tests and take them in a private room. We get it. I do this because I love it, and I do it because it helps me, and I want to help other people,” she says.
Among the various accommodations that can positively impact students’ college experience, Alternate Format is one of the most popular. It provides help to those students with dyslexia or ADHD. Alternate Format offers a text-to-speech application that reads to students via their personal computer or phone.
The office also provides other aids that will help alleviate stress for those who are challenged with ADHD, short attention spans or anxiety.
Garcia enjoys supporting the many students who have anxiety and ADHD, as these are the most common issues that she works with, but her goal is to help with any type of accessibility need.
To students who are considering whether to seek accommodations, Garcia says, “Just come and check it out! If you don’t find it helpful, then you don’t have to keep signing up. But I really don’t think that there is a scenario where people wouldn’t come and have a positive experience because you’re getting help, and we don’t exploit you. We’re just there for you.”
Seeking accommodations begins with calling Garcia at 541-440-7900 or dropping in to visit the Accessibility office in the Student Center. Garcia will answer students’ questions and help students understand the process to receive accommodations. At that point, students can walk away with an appointment to meet with Danielle Haskett to discuss what accommodations the student believes would be most beneficial towards achieving the student’s academic goals.
Getting accessibility assistance can mean reducing the chance of dropping out. The NCLD notes that students with learning disabilities have higher dropout rates than their counterparts, partly because “new students may be unfamiliar with the range of services offered by their school’s disabilities services office, or they may feel embarrassed to reach out for assistance or accommodation,” the NCLD reported.