ERIC Identifier: ED409972
Publication Date: 1997-05-00
Author: Pacifici, Tamara - McKinney, Kristen
Clearinghouse for Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Disability Support Services for Community College Students.
Although about 53 percent of public higher education students are enrolled in
community colleges, the proportion of students with disabilities served by
community colleges is much greater: 71 percent (Barnett & Li, 1997).
According to Flick-Hruska and Blythe (1992), over the coming years the number of
students with disabilities entering colleges will continue to increase due to
mainstreaming in secondary schools, efforts by postsecondary schools to make
facilities and programs accessible to people with disabilities, and students'
perceptions that higher education widens their opportunities for employment and
Three important pieces of legislation have helped to provide these
educational opportunities for students with disabilities: the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act-IDEA of 1975, and the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and
Gifted Children, 1992). This legislation has led many educational institutions
including community colleges to evaluate the types of services (if any) they
provide to students and ensure that they develop programs that meet the federal
This Digest will provide a profile of the magnitude of the demand for
disability support services in community colleges, identify the types of
programs that currently exist, and discuss some of the barriers to successful
implementation of these programs. Finally, it will provide suggestions for
future research and practice.
DEMAND FOR DISABILITY SUPPORT SERVICES (DSS)
According to a
recent survey conducted by the American Association for Community Colleges
(AACC) of 672 community colleges across the United States, approximately 8
percent of students report a disability and about half of those request services
(Barnett & Li, 1997). Among students who registered for disability support
services, 37 percent had learning disabilities; 18 percent had orthopedic or
mobility disabilities; 15 percent had chronic illnesses and other; 8 percent had
emotional/behavioral disorders; 6 percent had hearing disorders; 5 percent had
visual impairments or blindness; 4 percent had head injuries; 4 percent had
mental retardation; and 2 percent had speech and language disorders.
Barnett and Li found that nearly 80 percent of all colleges responding to the
1995 survey had a formal Disability Support Service Office, up from 70 percent
in 1992. Comparing the figures collected in 1995 to those from an earlier survey
conducted in 1992, Barnett and Li found that the types of services provided by
community colleges had not changed substantially. The services most frequently
provided by community colleges are registration assistance, counseling,
alternative exam formats or times, and note takers or readers. The only service
that increased dramatically over the four-year time span was the provision of
adaptive equipment and technology, which increased more than 30 percent.
SPECIFIC DSS PROGRAMS
The AACC's "Disability Support
Practices in Community Colleges: Selected Examples" (Barnett, 1993b) provides an
overview of the types of programs available at community colleges. Support
services often include disability assessment, orientation, academic advising,
career exploration, transfer advising, tutoring, adjustment counseling, and
adaptive equipment. One program that provides a range of services is the
Community College of Rhode Island's, Access to Opportunity program. The major
goals of this program are to retain students with disabilities, and ensure that
they receive adequate placement after graduation--either through transfer to a
four-year institution, or placement in the job market. In addition to the
traditional support services, this program sponsors a transfer fair hosted by
past students, and maintains a network with local businesses to aid in job
placement. Since the program began in 1980 it has fostered an 89 percent
retention rate. Other programs provide services for a specific disability, such
as deafness or visual impairment. A program at Santa Barbara City College in
California provides assistance to individuals with psychological disabilities
through such services as peer support groups, a day treatment center, and
courses on college survival skills and personal health issues.
Many disability support offices have developed partnerships with community
organizations or other campus departments to aid in the provision of services.
For example, the Special Needs program at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community
College in North Carolina collaborates with the Guided Studies Department to
offer an Adaptive Technology course. Students learn to use adaptive hardware and
software to develop reading, writing, and study skills.
According to the 1992 AACC study (Barnett, 1993a), four prevalent factors
have contributed to the success of DSS services: administrative commitment,
community linkages, staff expertise, and faculty support. A student-oriented
approach, stable funding, and a flexible and creative approach to service
delivery have been important, too.
BARRIERS TO SUCCESS
The many success stories of disability
support programs in community colleges may obscure the fact that there are often
obstacles to providing effective service. Barriers include difficulty in
obtaining adequate funding, lack of training about and limited understanding of
disabilities among faculty and staff, and inadequate referral services.
Although state governments provide funding for disability support services,
in a time of limited resources at all levels, it may become increasingly
difficult for community colleges to obtain enough money to support their
services. In 1992, the California Community Colleges estimated that it cost $557
per student to provide disability support services for a year and noted that
insufficient funding would threaten the ability of the colleges to provide
adequate services (California Community Colleges, 1992). The introduction of
computer technology to many campuses may require that additional services be
instituted to ensure that students with disabilities are able to utilize them
effectively. It may also increase the demand for more technologically advanced
and expensive support equipment such as speech synthesizers and word predictor
Faculty and staff perceptions and training are an important part of the
provision of support services. Flick-Hruska and Blythe (1992) suggest that the
elimination of attitudinal barriers is critically linked to the knowledge and
support of faculty and staff who implement DSS. Flick-Hruska and Blythe point
out that there is enormous variability just within one disability category, and
make it clear that students with disabilities are the "experts" regarding their
needs and can usually make suggestions for providing an effective learning
environment. In general, they suggest that support staff and faculty must view
students with disabilities as individuals instead of labeling them by their
disability, expect students with disabilities to meet the same standards as
their peers after the necessary accommodations have been made, and finally, view
the situation as a learning experience rather than a problem.
Mellard and Byrne (1993) note that in contrast to the K-12 sector, students
in higher education must initiate a referral for DSS themselves. In this
situation, awareness of the availability of the services is critical to
referral. In addition to knowing that services are available, other factors may
influence a student to seek services such as individual motivation, perception
of ability and need for services, and willingness to accept the assistance
(Mellard & Byrne, 1993). Any one of these factors could be a substantial
barrier to obtaining service. Furthermore, once students have contacted the
disability support office, they must then take an eligibility test to qualify
for further services.
Often learning disabilities are the only disability category for which
colleges complete the assessment, and students with other types of disabilities
must be assessed through an outside agency such as a hospital or rehabilitation
department, or a private consultant (Mellard & Byrne, 1993). Although the
college will generally direct students to these outside agencies,
transportation, time, and financial constraints may make it difficult for
students to obtain the assessments on which their services depend.
FUTURE RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
Although many recent
publications, especially those produced by AACC, have illustrated the range of
services available to students with disabilities in community colleges, many
areas deserve attention in the future. Future research should look at the
effectiveness of different support services and programs to help guide the
allocation of scarce financial resources into areas that are most beneficial to
students. Tracking students after they leave the college would also help to
determine program effectiveness and inform resource allocation. In addition to
the partnerships formed with businesses and community organizations to help
facilitate job placement, community colleges might also consider facilitating
partnerships to attract additional resources such as money and equipment.
Colleges should ensure that both the DSS staff and other faculty, staff, and
administrators have had appropriate professional development opportunities so
that they are equipped to deal with the special needs of students with
disabilities. Finally, perhaps the most critical implementation for the future
is to publicize disability support services adequately to a wide audience
including high school teachers and counselors, parents, and students.
Barnett, Lynn. "Services for Students with
Disabilities in Community Colleges. Final Report." Washington, DC: American
Association of Community Colleges, 1993a. (ED 364 308)
Barnett, Lynn (Ed.). "Disability Support Practices in Community Colleges:
Selected Examples." Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges,
1993b. (ED 364 309)
Barnett, Lynn & Li, Yong. "Disability Support Services in Community
Colleges, Research Brief ACC-RB-97-1." Washington, DC: American Association of
Community Colleges, 1997.
California Community Colleges. "Student Services and Special Programs: A
Report on Program Effectiveness." Sacramento, CA: California Community Colleges,
Board of Governors, 1992. (ED 351 065)
ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children. "Legal Foundations,
Number 1: Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and The Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990." Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and
Gifted Children, 1992.
Flick-Hruska, Connie, and Blythe, Gretchen. "Disability Accommodation
Handbook." Kansas City, MO: Metropolitan Community Colleges, 1992. (ED 358 880)
Mellard, Daryl, F., and Byrne, Mark. "Learning Disabilities Referrals,
Eligibility Outcomes, and Services in Community Colleges: A Four-Year Summary."
Learning Disability Quarterly, 1993, 16, 199-218.