Learn about disability resources at Case Western Reserve

For nearly three decades, Dec. 3 has marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities—an event created by the United Nations to increase understanding, awareness and support of persons with disabilities, and their inclusion in all aspects of life. At Case Western Reserve, the Office of Disability Resources shares this mission year-round, assisting students with accommodations for academic pursuits, housing needs and extracurricular activities. 

“Our office grants accommodations based on a student’s needs that limit one or more of their major life activities,” explained Eboni Porter, director of disability resources. “We’re not giving them an advantage; we’re helping them have equal access to campus resources, the community and their academics.”

To help the campus community learn more about how Porter’s office assists students with disabilities—and how everyone can get involved—The Daily sat down with her to outline some simple accessibility tips, resources and advice.

Accessibility tips for the campus community

Whether you’re working, living or learning alongside a person with a disability, there are small steps everyone can take to help create an accessible experience. 

“It’s all about taking a little extra time to think through things we might ordinarily overlook,” said Porter. For example, steps such as making sure scooters aren’t left in walkways, avoiding using accessible restrooms if you don’t need them, or giving someone a few extra minutes to process a question and formulate a response can all make a big difference.

For staff involved in planning programming on campus, Porter recommends putting extra consideration into the space you’re choosing, paying special attention to factors such as wheelchair accessibility, elevator access, and the sound or acoustics of the room—and don’t forget to communicate to attendees how they can request an accommodation for the event if they need one.

Although there are many accommodations available to students in the classroom, Porter suggests faculty take a “universal design” approach to their courses to make them more accessible for all students. This could include steps like providing PowerPoint presentations of class material ahead of time, making class recordings available and offering information in multiple formats—online, in print, and in formats compatible with a screen reader.

Resources for students, faculty and staff

Faculty and staff are encouraged to utilize disability resources if they have questions about how to best support a student or are looking to learn more about disabilities in general—and the office’s website is a great place to start. Browse information on different categories and examples of disabilities, learn more about disability etiquette, and explore disability awareness resources.

Curious about what accommodations might be available to you as a student? Porter stressed that although testing accommodations—such as additional time or a reduced-distraction testing environment—are the most common types of accommodations their office provides, there are many different options to help students succeed.

“The accommodation plans are all different,” said Porter. “Some students have one accommodation, others may have several—it’s all about their specific needs and what will help them the most.”

Porter suggested that students who feel like they may need an accommodation should start by working with their care provider to discuss how they’re feeling and how it’s affecting them. If you don’t currently have a provider, consider reaching out to University Health and Counseling Services to start the conversation and eventually apply for accommodations.

Advice for students living and learning with disabilities

Porter’s top advice for students with disabilities is to stick with your accommodation plan. “If you’ve used accommodations in the past, don’t try to tough it out without them because you want to see if things will be different, or you feel like you’re getting an unfair advantage,” she said. “You’ve put in all the hard work to learn the material and show your mastery of what you’ve studied—make sure you’re putting yourself in the best position to succeed.”

Finally, Porter emphasized the importance of not viewing a disability as a weakness. “It takes a strong person to come into our office and request accommodations, and to continue to use them. Students with disabilities are not incompetent or incapabale—they just take a different route or a little longer to get to the same result.”