Resources for students with disabilities

I’ve been physically disabled since 2004, and a student at NSU for almost as long. When I registered as student, I found that there was no handbook of services for disabled students and no orientation specifically for us. But after some digging, I discovered which resources are available to me, the most important one being the Office of Student Disability Services.

Headed by Director Arlene Giczkowski and Administrative Coordinator II Heidi Jameson, the office serves over 100 undergraduate and 100 graduate students, and it’s the student’s responsibility to contact the office to receive accommodations. There is a legal reason for this, Jameson said.

“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, we’re required to individualize everyone’s accommodations, so we can’t say what an individual’s accommodations will be until they’ve been evaluated,” she said. “We tailor it to each student’s specific needs.”

NSU also doesn’t host specific orientation for students with disabilities because the university does not discriminate.

“We don’t know who they are if they don’t tell us,” said Jameson. “The university doesn’t know unless you disclose it, and we are bound not to disclose it to anyone else.”

There are a variety of disabilities, and students with physical disabilities are a minority on campus, according to Jameson. She finds that individuals with physical disabilities are usually the best-informed, as they often cope with their disabilities for years and learn self-sufficiency. Here are nine resources that physically disabled NSU students should know about:

NSU structural accommodations

The word “handicapped” was phased out in favor of the less offensive term, “accessible.” Campus provisions currently exceed the required number of accessible parking spaces, and automatic doors and ramps address physical challenges at the entrances to all of NSU’s buildings. There is accessible housing in every residence hall, and all but one hall have elevators. Accessible rooms also include roll-in showers, shower bars and lower counters.

“If we don’t have something a student needs, we’ll install it,” said Jameson. “Even students who require a personal care attendant or nurse can still live on campus.”

The office arranges permission for attendants to be allowed in residence halls, but it does not provide attendants.

Disabled parking permits

Students and guests with disabled parking permits may access special parking spaces in any NSU lot. Those with disability hang tags are also allowed to park in any spot, disabled or not, on the first floor of the library garage without receiving a parking ticket.

The Shark Shuttle

The iShark app for smartphones is a must for students with disabilities. Available on iPhones and Android devices, the app tells where to catch the next Shark Shuttle, where it’s headed and how long it will take to reach its next stop. Students with disabilities can request alternate stops, and all drivers are trained to use the wheelchair lifts. The shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to midnight and transports students around campus, to Publix, and the Westfield Broward Mall.

Service dogs

In addition to those with visual and hearing impairments, Jameson said that service dogs are helpful to those with mobility challenges. These trained dogs can pull wheelchairs, retrieve objects, pick things up off the floor and even pull items from a backpack. Service dogs are permitted anywhere on NSU’s campus, including the food court and Shark Shuttles.

Requests for assistance

Students can request assistance from the Office of Disability Services, the Department of Public Safety and the library staff.

Jameson said the office can arrange for a graduate assistant or staff member to help a student carry books, among other tasks. “If you have a problem, no matter what it is, even if it’s not disability-related, we can refer you to someone on campus who can assist you.”

For example, if a student has trouble carrying multiple heavy books that are required for class, the office can arrange that the student purchase a loose-leaf version or photocopy and carry one chapter at a time. While the office receives numerous requests for transportation equipment, it does not provide wheelchairs, walkers or golf carts.

Reporting barriers to accessibility

Giczkowski and Jameson tour the campus regularly, looking for situations that could present problems for students, such as a blocked ramp or an untagged vehicle parked in a disabled spot.

“If you notice a barrier to accessibility, call us, and let us know,” said Jameson. “Take a picture with your phone and email it to us.”

Commencement

“This year, graduation will be held in our arena, and accessible seating will be for one wheelchair and one guest — others will be seated separately,” Jameson said.

Reservations are not accepted, so Jameson suggests students and guests plan to arrive early. If it rains, she recommends wheelchair covers.

The Disabilities Expo

Every October, Broward 211 presents The Disabilities Expo, hosted by NSU. Educating the community about resources and services, the Expo features vendors, speakers, art displays and sales by artists with disabilities and a wheelchair basketball tournament. For more information, visit their website at disabilitiesexpo.com.

The office’s Facebook page

These days, everyone has a Facebook page, and the office is no exception. On their website, students can find encouragement, academic success strategies and articles on coping with situations faced by students with disabilities. Visit at facebook.com/nsudisability.

The office can be reached Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 954-262-7185 or disabilityservices@nova.edu.

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