University caters to students with disabilities

Needs are being met for disabled students at Florida A&M University through innovative methods and extended access on campus.

“Prior to July, the Special Programs and Services Office provided care solely for students with learning disabilities,” said Nathaniel Holmes, director for the Learning Development and Evaluation Center.

Holmes and his staff took measures to expand special services to include students with physical disabilities. The university integrated its Office of Disabilities to include the LDEC and the Equal Opportunities Programs Office. These offices, located opposite the Student Union on Gamble Street, work to bring care to FAMU students with disabilities.

“The university provides me with note-takers in my intro to public relations, national American government and media ethics classes,” said Mackenzie King, a senior criminal justice student from Tallahassee.

King, 38, is legally blind with 2200 sight, which prevents him from seeing objects at a distance. He said the note-takers type his class notes that he later reads under a vision-enhancing screen called an LCE data projector.

“FAMU has approximately 225 to 250 reported students with short term and long term disabilities,” Holmes said. The Florida Department of Education Web site states that under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, universities are required to provide disabled students with equal rights in programs and activities funded by the state.

The university works in collaboration with Ability First, the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology. These state agencies provide the campus with electronic programs, loaner equipment and job opportunities for students with disabilities.

David Felder, a FAMU professor of philosophy and religious studies, had King as a student during the fall 2005 semester. Felder recalled having extensive computer communications with King.

During Felder and King’s study sessions, they covered the same logic material as the rest of the class, but Felder took extra time to explain the outline of his study guides and tests to King, Felder said.

At that time, the university did not have JAWS, a program that translates typed words to sound, for Microsoft, Felder said. The university did not provide Adobe Acrobat reader either, so King was not able to open or use portable document files, better know as PDFs.

“The university now offers Kurzweil software that scans documents and reads them aloud,” Holmes said. The software meant to makes it easier for students to review their assignments in a way they can understand.

“I use the campus mobility service for work purposes,” said Talmadge Morton, 19, a freshman general studies student.

The mobility service transports students to and from classes throughout the day.

“The university currently has three students who consistently use the service,” said Holmes.

FAMU also offers interpreting services and closed-captioning systems for hearing impaired students. The university provides teleloop for assisted listening and TDD/TTY, which is a telephone access system.

FAMU also tries to make campus life easier for students with speech impediments, vision problems and short-term disabilities like sprained ankles. The university offers talking computers, reading and writing centers, portable and electronic wheelchair lifts, Braille readers and alternate testing methods.

“We try to put together prescriptive assistance plans for our students,” Holmes said. This helps students with learning disabilities manage their time better.

The LDEC also works with faculty members to give disabled students adequate time for testing. They also provide quiet areas for students who suffer from attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and similar illnesses to study.

Current testing policy allows students to test at two different times during the day at the LDEC. The center offers testing from 10 a.m. to noon daily and again at 2-4 p.m. “Other arrangements are made, when needed, depending on the student,” Holmes said.

October is National Disabilities Awareness Month, and campus awareness has been Holmes’ greatest challenge since coming to FAMU, he said.

For more information about disabilities services and campus accommodations contact the Office of Disabilities by phone at (850) 599-3180.