JUNEAU, Alaska ―The number of students using disability services at the University of Alaska Southeast is more than five times what it was in 2008.
There were 23 students at the Juneau campus using those services eight years ago, when the Americans with Disabilities Act broadened its definition of disability. Since then, that number has grown to 119 students, according to KTOO-FM.
The upward trend has also been seen at the university’s Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses, but their increases haven’t been as significant.
Margie Thomson, the coordinator of counseling and disability services at UAS, attributes the increase to a larger presence of “hidden” and “temporary” disabilities. She said hidden disabilities are conditions that are not easy to see, such as mental health conditions and learning disabilities, while temporary disabilities are usually the result of injuries that people can recover from.
Thomson began working in disability services the same year the ADA amendment passed. The university added another part-time position to help out on campus about three years ago.
“For me it was awesome. I guess I’ve been a disability rights advocate for a long time,” Thomson said. “It’s been a little tricky sometimes working with all the services in the university. It’s involved more collaboration with facilities for physical accommodations.”
Traci Taylor, who graduated from UAS in May, said she benefited from the school’s disability services.
She said she had been struggling with anxiety and had trouble “keeping things straightened out in my head” when staff allowed her to take tests outside the classroom and recommended she use a smartpen equipped with a microphone to record lectures.
“It’s great to be able to go back and listen to whatever I missed during that time,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who now works in the university’s information technology department, said her test scores improved and school got easier with the university’s help.
University officials could not provide exact dollar figures for what it costs to provide disability services. However, citing fear of violating the ADA, the university sought an additional $250,000 for disability services earlier this year. The Legislature shot down the request.