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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

What Wichita State gets right when accommodating students with disabilities — and areas to improve

Thy Vo

When social work student Ashlyn Wheeler experienced a health flare last spring, she switched to online classes and struggled to get accommodations in one of her courses.

“It really impacted my class experience because I was getting zeros put in for big assignments,” Wheeler said. “And when I needed an extension or needed an explanation, that professor wasn’t there to help.”

Wheeler, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and serves as accessibility liaison for Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentorship (DREAM), said that to address the professor’s lack of communication, the Office of Student Accommodations & Testing worked “up the chain of command” on Wheeler’s behalf. Finally, the dean of the college got involved. 

According to Wheeler, that process took over a month.

After that meeting, the professor responded to Wheeler’s emails more quickly, and she received an extension to complete her assignments.

“But it was frustrating to get to that point,” Wheeler said.

 Wheeler and other students with disabilities spoke with The Sunflower about their experiences with accommodations at Wichita State. While they said their experiences were generally positive, some experienced at least one professor attempting to deny their accommodations.

How OSAT helps

The number of students with disabilities in higher education has increased throughout the past decade. According to the United States Department of Education, 21% of undergraduate students reported having a disability in the 2019-2020 school year — an increase from 11% in the 2011-2012 school year.

About 700 Wichita State students are registered with the Office of Student Accommodations & Testing (OSAT), according to director Isabel Medina Keiser.

The registration process for accommodations previously took place through the Office of Disability Services (ODS), but ODS and Testing Services combined in July of 2023.

As of fall of 2023, students request accommodations through the Accessible Information Management (AIM) Student Portal, which Medina Keiser called more “student-driven. Then students can select which professors are notified about their accommodations.

“(AIM) makes it so that they can kind of customize their accommodations,” Medina Keiser, who is dyslexic, said.

Mia Dennett, an autistic theater sophomore with anxiety and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, said OSAT registration was “very smooth.”

 Dennett said teachers at WSU are accepting and noted OSAT’s “very organized system” for test accommodations. According to Medina Keiser, students must schedule accommodated exams themselves via RegisterBlast, and they can receive extended time or a separate testing area, among other needs.

“Wherever I go to take tests, there’s lots of people there,” Dennett, DREAM’s secretary and treasurer, said. “I think that they (OSAT) keep really good track of what accommodations you get.”

Integrated marketing communications student Zaylee Bell, a wheelchair user and DREAM president, similarly called OSAT’s registration process “really easy,” but she said it was harder for OSAT to enforce professors and classrooms to follow accommodations.

Accommodations in the classroom

In a U.S. Department of Education survey released in April 2022, only 37% of students with disabilities informed their college, and out of those students, 85% received accommodations.

Research published in 2019 highlighted one potential barrier to accommodations is negative reactions from classmates and faculty when disclosing a disability or requesting accommodations.

Jasmine Peng, a Student Government Association at-large senator and accessibility subcommittee member with Crohn’s disease, said she has spoken with students who have had trouble getting their accommodations honored, such as one student who was denied extended test-taking.

Peng, a pre-nursing major, said one of her professors was also “stubborn” about honoring her extended test time. Eventually, the professor made a “compromise” for her to test on a different day and then send the exam to the testing center.

“They (teachers) think everything should be fair, which is understandable,” Peng said. “But at the same time, it’s a new generation … I do believe that we need to change that mindset if we can.”

While some may have concerns that students with disabilities receiving accommodations is unfair, the American Psychological Association states that accommodations “provide a level playing field” by “eliminating or reducing disability-related barriers.”

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) also mandates reasonable accommodations be made in academic programming and exams when students disclose their disability. 

While Wheeler shared some negative experiences at WSU, she said she generally has had “great luck” with professors following accommodations at Wichita State, aside from the one online professor. She also said that OSAT is “really involved” and “willing to help” when needed.

Hannah Bartlett, an autistic creative writing major with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, said most professors honored her accommodations — one even checked in on her. 

She also receives content warnings about graphic images and content, which she said has led to other professors incorporating them into their lessons.

 “I was worried that it’s putting too much work on the professors, but … they just want to protect me and keep me safe,” Bartlett, who graduated in December 2023, said. “I’m really hopeful that that will help other students someday … who might be too afraid to ask for those accommodations.”

Despite the support overall, one professor would not grant Bartlett an extension without taking off from her grade. She contacted the Office of Disability Services, who resolved the issue.

 Bell also asked ODS for help when, in a previous English class in Lindquist Hall, the table for wheelchair users like her was out of her reach. 

“I would have to move the table every day, which is an issue with using a wheelchair,” Bell said. 

According to Medina Keiser, professors failing to enforce accommodations “doesn’t happen very often,” but when needed, OSAT will meet with the professor, and if that fails, they speak with department heads. She said students can also file a complaint at the Office of Civil Rights, Civil Rights, Title IX & ADA Compliance.

“We really want the students to learn how to advocate for themselves, but if they’re running into any boundaries, then we jump in,” Medina Keiser said.

Room for improvement

While all five students spoke positively about accommodations at Wichita State, some shared areas of improvement. 

Bartlett and Peng both said that OSAT should increase its outreach so students realize it’s an option. Peng said she only discovered ODS when withdrawing from WSU one semester due to health reasons.

Research has indicated that a lack of awareness of campus resources can be a barrier to students with disabilities receiving accommodations.

In a recent Mental Health America survey of 471 college students with mental health disabilities, 70% didn’t register for accommodations, with 33% not knowing accommodations existed. 41% reported not believing they were “sick enough,” a concern that students with other disabilities can also share.   

 “A lot of students don’t feel that they’re ‘disabled enough’ to get accommodations when they can get them for struggling for anxiety, for depression,” Bartlett, who previously tutored at WSU’s Writing Center, said. “I’ve told a lot of students that come into the Writing Center, ‘I have accommodations; these accommodations will help you.’” 

Medina Keiser said she attends orientations and events to share about OSAT and help students not “feel any shame” about accommodations. While she said she has done “at least 60 awareness tables for different events,” including SGA’s Diversity Week, she’s eager to hear more suggestions for improving outreach.

“I’ve been advocating for people all my life,” Medina Keiser said. “I’ll continue to do so.”

According to Medina Keiser, OSAT also offers workshops for students as well as coaching, where students can discuss issues such as time management and assistive technology. This spring, Medina Keiser plans to offer a workshop to prepare students on asking for accommodations in the workplace.

Interaction and inclusivity

Peng also highlighted how TRIO Disability Support Services (DSS) can be helpful for students. According to TRIO DSS academic adviser Caitlin Bruner, the federally funded program supports students with disabilities outside the classroom through one-on-one meetings, tutoring, scholarship opportunities and workshops on topics such as study skills, time management and budgeting.

Bruner, who has Type 1 diabetes and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, emphasized getting students’ input and collaborating with them on developing useful strategies.

“If you’re going to offer help, you should not assume what help they need,” Bruner said. “You know you better than I know you.”

Peng also shared the need for an interactive approach among students and faculty. She said the SGA accessibility subcommittee is working on a resolution to “urge professors to hear out students more” about accommodations.

 “It’s a two-way street,” Peng said. “They’re here to teach us. We’re here to learn… Hopefully, this resolution kind of opens (faculty’s) eyes.”

While Wichita State distinguishes between accessibility as proactively addressing populations’ needs and accommodations as responding to individuals’ needs, making educational settings and teaching methods more accessible can potentially reduce the need for accommodations, according to the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology Center. 

One method is the Universal Design for Learning, which implements various teaching formats and resources for a diverse audience, including those with a wide range of disabilities.

Wheeler highlighted how one of her social work professors stays engaged in disability topics and said she would like to see more “open discussion” across Wichita State.

Through DREAM, Wheeler said she also hopes to share helpful resources and improve the conversation around disability.

“I am hoping to change … how we treat others on campus with disability (and) how professors view disability at different colleges at WSU,” Wheeler said.

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About the Contributors
Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown, News Editor
Courtney Brown is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.
Thy Vo
Thy Vo, Advertisement/Design Manager
Thy Vo has been the advertisement manager and design director for The Sunflower for two years. Vo is a senior majoring in graphic design and minoring in marketing with hopes to pursue a career in graphic design after graduation. This is her third year on staff. You can alternatively contact them at [email protected]. Vo uses she/they pronouns.

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