Disability Services’ cross-campus collaboration reduces barriers for students with disabilities
October 21, 2022
It's essential for all learners to have equal access to college. To reduce barriers for students who experience a disability, the Disability Services (DS) offices at UAA, UAF and UAS are continuously collaborating to streamline processes, share information and offer feedback.
Together, we do more.
The collaboration was sparked by an epiphany that Anne Lazenby, director of Disability Support Services at UAA, had a few years ago: "We work with many of the same students as UAF and UAS. Why are we making decisions in a vacuum?"
At the time, students with disabilities were required to register with each campus to receive accommodations. The paperwork required and accommodations offered varied by campus. In an effort to simplify the process, the three DS offices worked together to create a single form for accommodation requests that applies to all campuses. Now, if a UAA student takes a class through another campus, any accommodations they receive are automatically rolled over – there's no need to reapply and repeat the process again.
The established relationships among DS staff at all campuses also allows for an open dialogue to find the ideal plan for any student.
In a specialized field like Disability Services, the ability to ask questions, share experiences and solutions, and collaborate on accommodations is incredibly beneficial. As noted by Amber Cagwin, director of Disability Services at UAF, "You have to be creative. One size does not fit all. What works for one student may not work for another student with a similar disability."
As luck would have it, the collaboration was already in place by the time COVID-19 caused the university system to pivot to online instruction. With more online offerings, more students started taking classes from multiple campuses. "It's very common to have more overlap now," said Cagwin.
To help students navigate access in and out of the classroom, the partnership has recently expanded to include the HR Accessibility Team. "It's another area to advocate for students," said Lazenby. "There's some student-employee crossover, so it's about making sure they're accommodated in the workplace and the classroom."
Power in numbers
The three DS offices also benefit from the increased resource sharing facilitated by the partnership. "I would say it's been invaluable for UAS, since our office is so small," said Carrie Kline, lead counselor for Disability Services at UAS.
As an example, UAS does not currently have its own ASL interpreter (there's only one interpreter available for in-person events in the region), whereas UAA has interpreters on staff. Thanks to the collaboration, UAS can utilize interpreters from the other campuses for classes, public lectures or even graduation. For this year's spring commencement ceremony, UAA was able to help with interpreter arrangements and costs for a graduating UAS student who is deaf.
Lazenby emphasizes that there's a "tremendous benefit to aligning projects and priorities."
Cagwin also notes the benefit to "using our collective voice to advocate for access." Over the past year, for example, the DS team worked closely with university leadership to ensure that captioning was standard practice at every Board of Regents meeting.
"Access improves student success," said Lazenby. "We want to remove the stigma around disability – and talking to Disability Services offices."
Appropriate accommodations are activated based on individual student's needs, diagnosis, and circumstances. UAS Disability Services Specialist, Jenny Malecha, notes, “ADA/504 compliance is a campuswide responsibility. It’s important that faculty and staff know how and when to direct students to Disability Services and most importantly when to get DS involved.”
To learn more or request student accommodations, please visit:
– content contributed by Michelle Saport & UA DS Staff | revised 10.22.22