Disability Resource Center settles into new home

The Disability Resource Center (DRC) moved to room 116 of Smith Memorial Student Union at the beginning of fall term to be more accessible. Staff is now settling in and deciding what to do with the $2,300 ASPSU has given them.

The Disability Resource Center (DRC) moved to room 116 of Smith Memorial Student Union at the beginning of fall term to be more accessible. Staff is now settling in and deciding what to do with the $2,300 ASPSU has given them.

Cathy Symes, a graduate rehabilitation counseling student and ASPSU senator, made getting the DRC moved to a more accessible location her main campaign last school year.

Not only was it difficult for many students with disabilities to access the DRC on the fourth floor of SMSU, Symes was also concerned about safety and whether disabled students would be able to evacuate the center if necessary.

Polly Livingston, director of the DRC, shared her concern.

“[The first floor] is so excellent for access. I worried about getting people out safely,” Livingston said.

Symes was also granted funds by ASPSU to do two safety trainings. One session happened last school year, but the second event never happened, and on Oct. 29, the $2,300 that was earmarked for that training was given directly to the DRC.

This money is for anything the DRC needs, Symes said, as the DRC is working with a limited budget.

The first items purchased will be a refrigerator and a water cooler, and the rest has not been decided.

This year they have cut funding for professional development out of their budget, so directing some of the money toward that is one option.

The purpose of the DRC is to make sure students with disabilities have full access to academic and student life, Livingston said.

They accomplish this by offering a wide range of services and accommodations, based on the individual needs of each student.

The DRC recognizes seven types of disabilities: visually impaired or blind, hard of hearing or deaf, learning disorders or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders, orthopedic disabilities, psychological disorders, speech impairment and medical impairments.

According to Livingston, when economic times are bad, more students are registered with the DRC with psychological disabilities. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders and learning disorders are otherwise the most common disabilities.

“Disability is defined pretty broadly, but we do require documentation,” said Darcy Cramer, accommodations coordinator at the DRC.

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain documentation from a qualified professional.

After a student has provided documentation, they can register with the DRC and be eligible for accommodations and services. The goal of the DRC is not to give special privileges to disabled students, but rather to level the playing field, Livingston said.

“No one benefits by being given something. Everyone profits from being valued,” she said. “Everyone should have what they need to show what they know.”

Livingston does believe there are many students who are eligible for accommodations but choose not to register with the DRC.

“I don’t know that they need more [accommodations], but I wish they would come in because maybe they do,” she said.

Cramer also wishes more students would register.

“I have talked with students who have said, ‘I wish I had known you existed before I graduated.’ There’s not enough visibility,” Cramer said. “The DRC needs more prominence.”

Cramer also believes that some students may choose not to register because they do not want to tell anyone that they have a disability. However, the DRC is careful to maintain confidentiality.

The DRC does not release information without a student’s informed consent, and when a letter is written to faculty to explain the accommodations a student has been approved for, the student delivers the letter to the instructor.

Paul Anthony, a graduate rehabilitation counseling student, has brain cancer and is registered with the DRC.

“They have made me aware of my rights as a student who is disabled. They have made my life easier,” Anthony said. “They have helped me with audiobooks—I can be reading my book even when I’m tired. I’m getting very good grades in school. I might not be if the DRC were not here.”   

Overall, Livingston believes that Portland State is an accommodating school for students with disabilities and has “great administrators who are extremely supportive.”

The largest problem she has experienced is instructors who wait until the term begins to order textbooks, which means that students who need books in alternative formats may not have them for the first weeks of school.
“Reasonable is for students to have their textbooks when other students do. These students are going to be behind,” Livingston said.