October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. What is the status of disability on campus?
The number of employees who tell us they have a disability by requesting accommodations or adaptive equipment has doubled since 2004 when OSU started tracking requests.
When you look across faculty, administrative and staff positions, 3.96 percent of our employees tell us they have a disability by requesting accommodations or adaptive equipment — either from Integrated Disability in central HR or from my office; the national average is 3.78 percent.
There have been a lot of changes in the 13 years since the ADA Coordinator’s Office was created to bring a systematic and comprehensive approach to disability.
Since 2004, central funds, not department budgets, cover accommodation expenses ranging from supplemental lighting and adaptive software to sign language interpreters and building modifications.
While costs are covered, most needs are met with simple modifications to policy and practice; a flexible schedule, reorganizing work flow and other creative strategies that cost virtually nothing.
Since 2010, Integrated Disability in Central HR has been working with the ADA Coordinator’s Office to identify and implement these solutions for employees and their departments.
When Disability Employment Month began in 1945, it focused on veterans with physical disabilities. While there has been renewed outreach to veterans with disabilities, we serve employees with a wide range of disabilities including chronic health conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis, autism, PTSD and depression as well as the mobility and sensory impairments that were the original focus for “Hire the Physically Handicapped Week” in 1945.
If October is about employment and disability, what about students?
Our Office for Disability Services is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and we currently work with about 2,000 students any given academic year to provide accommodations in the classroom, on internships, study abroad, residence halls and co-curricular programs.
Besides the number of students served, an indicator of our success at integrating access and inclusion into the fabric of OSU is the addition of Disability Studies as a minor and graduate concentration. Disability Studies examines the role of disability in society much the same way Women’s Studies looks at the role of gender.
Another indicator is the existence of a number of vibrant student organizations — some focused on specific disabilities such as autism; others, like Ability and the newly formed Disability Studies Graduate Student Association, have a wide focus and a cross-disability base.
Of course there is still a lot of work to be done.
As the university embraces new approaches to teaching and research, access policies and practices have to evolve to keep up with the increasing role of technology, international study and service learning.
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