Disabilities Services takes a look back at improvements at U

Jessica Thompson

In honor of Disability Awareness Month, University Disability Services hosted a dinner Wednesday celebrating the inclusion and advancements of disabled students and faculty.
Disabilities Services was organized in the late 1980s. Despite its short life, the program has already made important strides in achieving equal opportunities for the disabled, said director Bobbi Cordano.
“The University has been a model for building allies and partners within the school who want to help support those with disabilities,” she said. “We have had tremendous support in the administration.”
Cordano, who is deaf, came to the University last April. She said she understands how difficult it can be to succeed in a world still not fully accommodating the needs of the disabled.
“I have seen firsthand some of the discrimination people with disabilities face,” she said. “It wasn’t until the 1970s that anyone, especially the government, recognized that people with disabilities have civil rights.”
Both the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act opened doors for the disabled — especially regarding the right to reasonable accommodations in educational and occupational opportunities.
“Before legislation, disabled students’ ability to succeed on campus depended on the good will of others,” said Margaret Ottinger, Disabilities Services assistant director of student services. “The legislation said that, as a society, we have an obligation to remove barriers to education.”
The removal of these barriers has led to an increase in disabled students attending the University, said Disability Services assistant director Donna Johnson.
“The trend in recent years seems to be that more people with disabilities are viewing college as an opportunity,” she said. “I would imagine access to college is a lot greater now than it was 30 years ago.”
Disability Services’ main goal is to ensure reasonable accommodations are provided for students, staff and guests. The office aims to provide equal access to courses, programs, services, jobs, activities and facilities.
The faculty also work to change the way disabilities are perceived, Johnson said.
In a recent issue of the newsletter The Bridges, Susan Lindgren of the Disabled Student Cultural Center wrote, “Historically, disability has not been viewed as an identity worthy of pride, but rather as a condition needing to be cured.”
These are exactly the kinds of beliefs and prejudices Disability Services is fighting against, Johnson said.
“Our main goal is to promote disability community culture and pride,” she said.
Cordano said currently the majority of the approximately 1,000 students per year who seek assistance from Disability Services have either learning or psychiatric disabilities.
“People think of disabilities as being very visible,” she said. “The reality is there are a lot of disabilities that are not readily apparent.”
The Wednesday dinner focused on University advancements, especially regarding access to resources and technology. In addition, awards were presented to both the Metro Center for Independent Living and to Harvey Carlson, a General College adviser who promotes disability issues.
Cordano said she thinks the achievements of the past three decades have made equal opportunities for people with disabilities a reality. She bases her optimism on her own experiences in the community.
“A lot of people have taken interest in my well-being and success,” she said. “I have witnessed the power of the community to create opportunities so that people with disabilities can realize their full potential.”

Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at [email protected]