Disability Resource Services responds to closure

Chris Bird, News Editor

While students and staff have been transitioning to learning and working in online environments, Disability Resource Services has been working behind the scenes to make sure everyone has the best chance of succeeding during these changes. DRS has made changes and adapted to provide the accommodations that students have been able to access in their classrooms before now.

Scott Ritter, Director of Disability Resource and Testing and Assessment Services, has been overseeing and coordinating the college’s efforts to get students the help they need. “The team that I have the opportunity to lead is a really great one,” Ritter said. DRS strived to answer the question of “how can we work together to help our students.”

DRS is largely in charge of the organization and implementation of services to help students who may need accommodations, but their goals would be impossible without collaboration with all parts of Madison College. DRS started their planning by making sure to include interaction between students, teachers and staff to ensure that they were able to cover all the bases required to provide an ideal learning environment and provide accommodations on many different levels.

Many students have had to adapt to taking online classes for the first time ever, or have otherwise changed their day to day school experiences drastically because of the facilities closures. The same is true for staff and teachers, and there has been a real effort to make sure that everyone is able to keep up and that they have someone to turn to if they encounter new problems that need solving.

DRS has been sharing guides and instructions with staff and teachers to help them plan out their for online environments, as well as information about possible solutions to issues that may come up in these settings. In the time between the announcement of Madison College’s closure and the continuation of classes at the college, DRS had to work quickly to prepare for the large shift in how everyone operates in their day to day responsibilities.

Some of the changes DRS has made include making all appointments remote, making sure students can get testing accommodations in their new situation, adapting note accommodations for those who need them and those who take notes for others, and reaching out to students in order to deal with individual needs.

Ritter stated that one of the greater problems that DRS has been able to overcome was making sure that deaf and hearing impaired students were able to have sign language interpretation available for their classes. “In a week they had to figure out how to interpret a lecture and put in sign language for students in an online environment.” DRS was able to find a way to include footage of a sign language interpreter alongside lectures for the students who could be helped by this feature. Making sure teachers and students were aware of tools like Yuja to post and add closed captions to videos also helped make sure content was accessible.

DRS works with the philosophy of an open design learning environment. Open design is the idea of creating a system which is open to people in all types of situations and from all backgrounds. The accommodations that are being worked on and provided now are meant to help those with certain needs, but they will also ideally help anyone who is interacting with them. Ritter said that he is hopeful that the changes that have come out of new necessities can make the services the college provides even better, and they can carry on the new methods they have found into the future.

One of the things that Ritter is most worried about is making sure that students have the access to technology that they need to perform well in these times, but focusing on reaching out to students and making it easy for students to contact DRS is a part of making sure students get what the help they need. Maintaining interaction between individual students also helps make sure that those who may need support in less direct ways are being helped. There are those who may be struggling due to social distancing, or who have problems socializing or interacting with their classes online instead of in person. Having direct lines of communication can help these students receive personalized assistance, and also lead students to experts in other parts of the college like Counseling Services, Advising and Support, etc.

Through these changes, Ritter said that DRS is “not just aiming to be compliant.” Madison College is striving for a “best practice” environment for its community.