Monday, July 18, 2016

A History of Disability Services at UNCG

In the early years of the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) the 1890s, one of the admission requirements was that students must be "in good health." Of course, "good health" was never clearly defined by these requirements. In the papers of our second President Julius Foust, we have a letter concerning a potential student who was diabetic. She was denied admission to the school because it was decided that her health wasn’t "good."

From that time, we jump the story forward to the 1970s. Unfortunately, little documentation exists in University Archives to shed light on any policy changes or accommodations for special needs that may have existed in the in-between years.

UNCG Disabilities Student Services
brochure cover,
circa 1990
The Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 surely spurred the greatest change to campus accessibility. It is generally regarded as the first national civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. In fact, much of the language used was the same as that used in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Section 504 in particular had a strong impact on the campus at UNCG and other public and private colleges and universities across the United States. This Section declared that "No otherwise qualified person with a disability should be denied access to, the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any institution or entity receiving federal financial assistance." In Subpart E, it continued by emphasizing that colleges and universities must make appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices in order to allow the full participation of students with disabilities in the same programs and activities available to non-disabled students.

These regulations became effective in 1977, and colleges and universities were provided with a compliance schedule that they had to prove they were meeting. Immediate compliance in terms of accessibility to programming was required. In response, Chancellor Ferguson named the Vice Chancellor for Administration – Charles D. Hounshell – as UNCG’s compliance officer, making him responsible for facilitating the school’s compliance with the Federal Rehabilitation Act. Soon thereafter, the University complied with another required part of the implementation of the law by issuing a memorandum to all faculty, staff, and students regarding the institution’s commitment to non-discrimination. The memo read: "The University of North Carolina at Greensboro reaffirms its policy not to discriminate on the basis of handicap in the programs or activities which it operates."

Accessibility of course content was a key component of compliance that had to be met by the start of the 1977-1978 school year. The law required schools to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate studying, working, and living activities on campus so that all people can participate in them fully. A 1979 brochure focused on "Services for Students with Special Needs" listed a number of campus services available to provide "equal opportunities for academic achievement to all students." Included is mention of "special services and equipment" available in Jackson Library, a "reader service" for visually impaired students, and "interpreting services" for hearing-impaired students..

Administrators also began examining physical accessibility on campus. In September 1977, Facilities Services requested an allocation of the capital improvement funds for the year to assist in the "removal of barriers for handicapped people." Major issues existed on campus that limited access to key services. Offices such as Academic Advising, Adult Student Services, the Cashier’s Office, and many campus administrators were located in a building which had "very deficient access to many handicapped people and no access for people in wheelchairs." This funding was key in order to comply with another aspect of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which stated that, by June 1980, "reasonable" accommodations must be made to structures to ensure access to classrooms, dormitories, dining areas, student services offices, and other key areas of the university.

Dr. Diane Cooper
In July 1985, UNCG hired Dr. Diane Cooper to a dual position as both "international student advisor and coordinator of handicapped student services" [note: responsibilities for coordinating international student services were delegated to the newly-created International Student Services Office in April 1988]. With her hiring, responsibility for adhering to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 shifted to Cooper. Two years later, in 1987, over 100 students with physical or learning challenges were receiving assistance from Cooper's office. Cooper also provided workshops for faculty and staff on "Working with Disabled Students." These workshops covered "a basic understanding of various disabling conditions," "accommodation techniques used in classrooms and activities," and "resources available for working with students who are disabled."

In 2013, the Office of Disability Services received approval for a name change to the Office of Accessibility Resources and Services (OARS). OARS continues to "provide, coordinate, and advocate for services which enable undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities to receive equal access to a college education and to all aspects of university life." In addition to providing adaptive technology, interpreter, note taker, alternative testing, and other services, OARS staff members work to broaden "disability awareness within the university community."

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