University disability services responds to spike

The Disability Resource Center made two new hires last month to shorten student waitlists.

by Hannah Weikel

A University of Minnesota department that assists students with disabilities has strained under mounting requests for its services.
The Disability Resource Center hired two employees in December — including a provisional spot approved by school administrators — and started training them last week to prepare for this semester’s student requests.
“Last semester we had a two-week or more waiting period at the busiest times,” DRC associate director Cynthia Fuller said. “So we had permission to make a year-long temporary position.”
DRC faculty write accommodation letters explaining certain needs of students with disabilities, like allowing laptops for notetaking. And as waitlists for appointments form, the center’s staff coordinates between professors and students in the meantime, said DRC access consultant Corbett Laubignat, the most recent hire before the fall semester.
Laubignat said new consultants train for six weeks before working with students one-on-one. 
Hannah Linsk, a gender, women and sexuality studies senior, said she has used the DRC office since 2011 to take class tests. Lately, she said, a noticeable increase of 
students have been frequenting the center.
“I think it’s interesting that there’s such a high demand. It makes me wonder what the tipping point will be — when University administrators realize that the number of students at the DRC means classes aren’t working for most people,” Linsk said. 
The amount of students seeking accommodations for mental health have skyrocketed over the last few decades, Fuller said. It’s a marked difference from past decades for the DRC, which tended to accommodate students with learning disabilities.
Now, she said, 45 percent of requests are for mental health reasons.
“Awareness of the different things that are considered disabilities and increased knowledge of our services for all disabilities has created an increase and shift in the students using the DRC,” she said.
Fuller said it’s hard to pinpoint the factors that increase demand for services across University services like the DRC, Boynton Health Service and Student Counseling Services — which experienced a 6.7 percent bump in appointments from fall 2014 to fall 2015, SCS director Glenn Hirsch said. 
“[The increase] can’t be attributed to any one particular thing,” Fuller said. “In the past 12 years, the stigma of mental health and disability has gone down in college-aged groups in general. Students are becoming more willing to ask for the services they need.”
SCS works with the DRC and Boynton to ensure students get services applicable to their needs, Hirsch said. 
“We refer between offices really quite regularly,” he said. “If we get a student in one of the three offices, we find their best place. My worry is that students aren’t taking the time to come at all.”
Boynton has made similar moves in previous years, cutting down on waitlists
However, students seeking SCS services still experienced waits anywhere from two to four weeks last semester, according to Hirsch. Near the end of the year, the office had to inform 50 students they couldn’t fit them in until winter break or spring semester.
Only about half of those students rescheduled, Hirsch said.