SC State's Disability Enhancement Project Holds Summer Institute

Thursday, August 12, 2010

SC State University faculty and staff members received a wealth of information on how to meet the academic and support needs of students with disabilities during the recent Disability Enhancement Project (DEP) Summer Institute.


Designed to ensure that students with disabilities receive a quality higher education, the Disability Enhancement Project (DEP) develops, trains and provides technical assistance, along with valuable and resourceful teaching methods, to enhance student achievement. The summer institute was a culmination of several lunch and learn trainings held during the academic year, which brought trained experts to SC State to discuss how to effectively assist students with disabilities.


Dr. Trya Turner Whittaker, associate professor of Counseling and program coordinator of the Master in Human Resources program at North Carolina A&T State University; and Dr. Cassandra Sligh Conway, interim chairperson of the Department of Human Resources and coordinator of Rehabilitation Counseling at SC State, served as presenters during the institute.


During the morning session, Whittaker opened with an exercise where attendees were placed in teams and given a set of rules to follow.  At the end of each game, the winner was asked to switch teams while everyone was told to continue to play, only this time they were not allowed to talk. At the end of the exercise, Whittaker revealed that each team was playing by a different set of rules, making some confused, while others quickly grasped the concept. “There may be times when you know the communication is not clear, or if you are not quite on the same playing field, sometimes you have to use alternate forms of communication,” says Whittaker. “It is vital to take time and access the communication piece,” Whittaker noted when speaking of how important maintaining communication is when assisting students with disabilities.


Whittaker also stressed the importance of emphasizing one’s abilities, not limitations.  “It’s important to not label people by their disability,” noted Whittaker. “The person is not the disability, and the two concepts should remain separate.  When referring to someone with a disability, you should make reference to their name then the disability and not the other way around.” She closed by giving tips on how to adequately provide accommodations for students with disabilities. “Ask the student what is needed for them to be successful in your class.  You want to ensure that you are able to meet the functional and academic needs of your students.”


Conway opened the afternoon session with insightful information on how to successfully identify students with various types of disabilities.  “Some disabilities may not be visible, but you have to make sure you are aware of them,” she says. “Health related disabilities can include asthma, epilepsy or other dysfunctions that people may not initially recognize. Other nonphysical disabilities include learning disabilities, psychological illnesses or infections.”


Providing several case scenarios, Conway indicated how faculty and staff members can identify the students’ disability and the best way to assist them. She also discussed laws under the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Students are required to meet essential, academic and technical standards of the University with or without reasonable accommodations, but reasonable accommodations must be provided to qualified students who identify themselves as having a disability,” said Conway.


"The 2010 Disability Enhancement Project summer institute was a great success,” stated Dr. Michelle Maultsby, co-director of DEP.  “We were able to train and increase the knowledge of 20 new faculty and staff on disability issues.  This knowledge will help to enhance the overall college experience for students with disabilities, as well as promote a better learning environment for all students.”


Dr. Dwight Varnum, who also serves as co-director of DEP, noted that “this year’s summer institute empowered all participants, including faculty, staff and administrators, with information that will help them not only work better with students with disabilities, but also with all students who may need some accommodation in their academic pursuits at SC State.”


Several attendees shared how the information received is also key to their individual success at SC State. Ann Belton, registrar and director of Veteran Affairs, is one who found the institute to be very informative, and says her role at the University requires her to be well aware of disability laws and procedures. “This was a very necessary and helpful institute to help me better serve students and veterans with disabilities,” advised Belton.  “It was equally important for faculty because they are responsible for being in the classrooms with students and can identify learning disabilities early on. Early intervention is the key in helping a student become successful during a particular semester and throughout their tenure at SC State,” she added.


Giselle White Perry, assistant professor of Criminal Justice who attended the summer institute and many of the lunch and learn trainings during the academic semester, had an opportunity to put her knowledge to practice when one of her senior students fractured his leg and needed accommodations during his internship. “The agency in which he was placed was not handicap accessible, and because he was a volunteer and not an employee, they were not obligated to accommodate him.  I worked closely with SC State’s Office of Disability Services, and fortunately with our working together along with the agency, he was able to complete his internship and graduate on time,” says White-Perry.


The DEP will conduct its first Lunch and Learn training session for the Fall 2010 semester on Monday, August 30, 2010 at noon on the campus of SC State.  For more information, contact Simeon Moultrie, program coordinator, at 803-516-4553, or email smoultr4@scsu.edu.