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CSU managing needs of students with disabilities

Joe Tiner has been legally blind since birth.

A rare genetic disorder passed down from his father called retinitis pigmentosa prevents him from seeing anything very clearly. If he zooms in far enough, he can read words, but without proper lighting he is completely blind.

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Tiner, a sophomore journalism major, lives on campus and will likely stay in the dorms until he graduates. He cannot drive and using the public transport is difficult.

Tiner also works for Resources for Disabled Students and takes advantage of the aid they provide students. He is maintaining his independence and takes pride in challenging himself.

“It’s a question for yourself on whether you think, ‘I can do this,’ or not,” Tiner said. “It’s a challenge by choice.”

Tiner relies on many of the services provided by the university and RDS. The needs of disabled students range far and wide, from needing automatic doors and wide doorways to taking tours around campus to create routines.

In addition to free help from RDS, disabled students are provided alternative textbooks, priority in housing and registration and professors are alerted of what needs students might need. RDS can also relocate classes that are too far away or do not have appropriate resources if a student is suddenly injured — such as a broken leg.

Around campus, accessibility varies.

“Needs are diverse, so what our facilities do is diverse,” said John Malsam, assistant director of Residence Life. “Just about all our facilities meet varying levels of (accessibility).”

Malsam works directly with RDS and students to find the right rooms, whether that means accessible showers, lowered peepholes in the doors, or first floor priority.

“It’s a balancing act always,” Malsam said.

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Communication and collaboration early on are the best ways to get students what they need.

Tiner, in particular, worked with housing to get a single room so that he could bring assistive magnifying devices to do his coursework. He moved in early and got documentation of his impairment to RDS, who then contacted the rest of his resources.

When Tiner first got to campus, he had a private tour from his specialist at RDS. For those with visual impairments, a routine is integral to finding their way around campus.

The Assistive Technology Resource Center (ATRC) also plays an integral part for students in need.

Shannon Lavey, service coordinator/provider at the ATRC, works with students to provide hardware and software that can be used on campus. These include voice recognition, read to me programs, texts in PDF and note taking software.

“There isn’t any one technology that works for everyone,”  Lavey said.

Part of Lavey’s job is to test which program works best for a student, matching them up to the best technology for their need.

These sorts of resources are particularly useful to students with impairments that prevent traditional note taking and writing.

Terry Schlicting, an accommodation/advocacy specialist at RDS, is also a masters student at CSU. He has cerebral palsy, which allows him some control over his hands, but not the ability to control fine movements like writing.

Schlicting uses a technology that records his voice as he speaks in order to write his papers. The technology comes from ATRC. He also joked that he uses friends to write his papers.

CJ Harrison, a masters student and a Assistant Residence Director in Parmelee hall, also has cerebral palsy, but he is able to walk and use stairs. This is due to a surgery when he was seven that spliced his tendons and lengthened them enough that he was able to walk unaided.

Walking for Harrison isn’t a mindless experience. His walk does not look exactly like everyone else, so uneven pavement and even oddly numbered stairs can provide a challenge.

Harrison is generally please with what CSU does to help disabled students — he mentioned that maintenance is on top of repairs when an elevator goes down or an automatic door stops working. But he is also aware of the shortcomings.

He noted that the main entrance to the Administration Building doesn’t have handrails that he can use. He has to use an alternative entrance to get to the upper floors. He also said that it takes over 60 hours for ATRC to convert one textbook into an alternative form.

Tiner also saw a few shortcomings of the system when he had to drop out of a geology class because he could not do a large portion of the work — mainly visually identifying rocks and minerals. He realizes that some things just don’t work out.

“It just depends,” Tiner said. “(It’s) really up to the student. I am a visually impaired journalism major and I’m taking photography and broadcasting classes. They make it harder, but I still do it. Photography is my hobby and I think I do fairly well,” Tiner said.

Tiner and Harrison both have issues with locations on the Oval. Harrison found that the curbs can be too high to step over and there are not enough ramps for easy access onto sidewalks.

“I go walk through the Oval a lot and I (think) these buildings are not accessible to anyone in a wheelchair,” Tiner said. “I could see that really limiting where you could take (classes), especially if it’s in a very inaccessible building.”

Tiner’s biggest issue comes when construction blocks his usual route. He’s had to walk in the roadway to avoid construction, which puts him in danger of getting hit by bikes or vehicles.

However, CSU is working to make campus better for all students.

The new LSC renovation took accessibility into account and will have better resources for disabled students. They will also have a satellite office for RDS, which is far closer than their location near Jack Christenson Memorial Track.

“It makes it so we have a social identity,” Harrison said. “My disability, although it has physical limitations, is also a social identity just like any other. Education and collaborations with other offices is something I’m looking forward to.”

As student needs increase, it seems that CSU will become more accessible for students that need additional support.

“Our numbers have been gradually increasing the past few years,” Schlicting said.

Students that seek out help can get the aid they need.

“Clear communication is key,” Tiner said.

“Be thankful for the small things,” Harrison said. “It could be way worse.”

Collegian Senior Reporter Mariah Wenzel can be reached at news@collegian.com. For more stories follow her on Twitter @mariahcwenzel.

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