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April 21, 2003

USA accomodates to students with disabilities

From: University of South Alabama News - Apr 21, 2003

by Sheila Wilkinson
Contributing Writer
April 21, 2003

Currently, the University of South Alabama's Special Student Services has over 500 students registered with disabilities. They help the physically disabled -the wheelchair bound and those with ambulatory mobility problems, the deaf and the blind and many with other medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes. They also work with students who have learning disabilities like ADD, ADHD and dyslexia, or emotional disabilities such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

Recently Bernita Pulmas, Manager of Special Student Services, discussed how the needs of handicapped students are being met on campus. She stated that her office provides "accommodations to make things equitable in the classroom." These special accommodations include note takers, deaf interpreters, readers, writers, textbooks on tape, and granting permission for students to record lectures and have test-time extensions.

Pulmas stated that "many students with hidden disabilities - the learning disabled and the emotionally disabled, are afraid to register with the office." They fear the stigma that labels can bring. Such hesitant students might be more willing to register if they understood that SSS treats their right to privacy as sacred. Students' records from the office do not go on transcripts and students must give permission on a class by class basis for professors to be notified of their need for accommodations. Only the student's accommodation needs -such as longer test time, taping lectures, etc. are made known. The student's diagnoses are kept private. People need not fear registering because someone will find out things that they prefer to keep private. They can rest assured their privacy is protected.

Pulmas is very proud of a new facility that will be opening this semester: a state of the art lab designed for disabled students. The lab will provide voice-activated computers that translate written format into verbal and vice-versa. Braillers and enlargers will also be made available to sudents. This latest technology will soon be accessible to students in Room 208 of the Student Center.

Students can access information on the USA's website under disabled student services or can walk into the office at any time to register or get information.

Tom Herbert, works in the Administration Building, works to make sure that USA is up to snuff with the American Disabilities Act's regulations.

He recently shared how his office works to make the campus and its facilities more accessible to students with special accommodation needs. He said that disability access was not even an issue until the 1980's. He has worked at USA since 1975 and has seen the strides made in this area. He feels that the university has kept up well and, in some areas, has surpassed ADA guidelines.

He is especially proud of how well lit the campus is after dusk. He has even walked the campus after dark checking out the visibility and accessibility of the whole campus. His first priority is safety and USA has very low instances of rape and physical assault cases on campus, which is helped by the excellent lighting system.

Herbert stated that many sidewalks have been added and that they are constantly being maintained for what he called the 'trip factor.' He also stated that roads and lots are inspected regularly to make sure that there are no potholes or other dangerous conditions.

Ramps on campus are provided as needed. Both Herbert and Pulmas agreed that if one is needed somewhere new, it is put up quickly.

Even with all the efforts to make campus on accessible environment for students with disabilities, there are still some complaints and concerns. Some students have found using the freight elevator in the Student Center, the only elevator in the building, to be demeaning. Herbert stated that they are working on putting at least one elevator in each building right now and that Alpha Hall East recently received a new elevator.

He also stated that they have added numerous water fountains and they have replaced normal sized tablet-armed chairs with larger ones that are more accessible. Many doors have been changed out so that much less pressure is needed to open them and work continues to be done in this area.

Another complaint is that some bathrooms on campus contain two toilets in one stall, making them handicap inaccessible. He said the doors were enlarged to make the stalls more accessible but that the extra commodes have not yet been removed. However, they are also in the process of correcting this.

Parking is another important issue for the handicapped. On campus, there are a few spaces in every area, designated for the handicapped. If these are taken, the students who have designated campus tags or license plates can park in the faculty spots, which are usually just as close to the doorways.

Anyone with complaints in this area may submit them in writing to USA's Traffic and Parking Committee. Herbert assured that such complaints will be checked out and dealt with as soon as possible.

With its current projects, past efforts and future plans, USA's Special Student Services seems to be doing a great job at caring for and accommodating to its students. Students with disabilities can have some peace of mind knowing that the people who deal with accessibility issues are they themselves, very accessible.

© 2003 USA Vanguard