October 9, 2017
Many have contacted us with questions and concerns about support for students with disabilities at Oberlin. I am heartened to see this demonstration of our community's commitment to equity and inclusion and appreciate your outreach and advocacy.
Disability Resources remains a fundamental institutional priority. Transitions in staffing between December 2016 and September 2017 represent choices that staff members made to pursue the next phase in their lives. You may not be aware that the College offered a voluntary retirement plan last year, and nearly 90 staff across the College accepted the package, including some staff in the disabilities services office. The College is grateful for their contributions and wishes them the very best in their new pursuits.
In anticipation of staffing changes, planning for organizational changes began in Fall 2016. An ongoing review of students’ needs demonstrated that providing effective support required more than the replacement of departing staff members. Procedures and approaches that had been designed with the best intentions unfortunately had become cumbersome and burdensome for both students and staff and needed to be revised.
There has been great concern expressed that these organizational changes demonstrated a plan to reduce staffing in this area - I want to reassure you that this is not the case. By early September 2017, more staffing hours were available to support students with disabilities than were scheduled the previous semester. This is because we added temporary professional staff and combined two offices and began cross-training so that more staff would be available, not less. I know that some of your letters to me have requested a separate office and separate staff. I want to be straightforward that I do not believe that this is the best way forward. The prior structure provided fewer hours to students and placed the office on an island, rather than having it integrated into the broad work of the College; namely, every student’s success.
Disability Resources is now a part of the Center for Student Success. The creation of the Center represents an institutional commitment to ensuring a more sustainable working environment for Oberlin's professional disability specialists by spreading their caseload across more individuals, allowing them more time to work with individual students.
This by no means suggests that the transition has been perfect. While we have adopted strategies to increase available staffing hours, we are still in the process of revising processes so that we can ensure that students are appropriately accommodated in a timely fashion. Additionally, we are seeking additional professional staff as well as student employees who provide some accommodations that we offer, such as note taking.
As you may be aware, Interim Director of Disability Resources Isabella Moreno recently resigned. This change is distinct from the matters that we have previously discussed, although it certainly impacts services until we can hire a replacement. The College is grateful to Ms. Moreno for her steadfast advocacy and wishes her every success in her next endeavor.
Because of our concern with ensuring that students still continue to receive excellent services during this transition, we have completed an immediate audit of outstanding student requests. Accommodation letters are already available to all students who have completed the intake process and, beginning next week, ample appointments will be available for any students who need to schedule consultation.
While we are working to expedite our hiring process for notetakers, we also strongly encourage students who want to help to please consider applying ASAP. In some cases, the delay in providing notetakers has been the result of students declining to apply to serve in this role, despite multiple solicitations from Disability Resources. We are increasing proactive outreach to identify additional notetakers for this semester while establishing a system to ensure that notetakers are identified early and in place no later than the end of add/drop in the spring semester.
If you are a student who is still awaiting a response to a request for accommodations, please contact Disability Resources immediately at 440-775-5588 or Disability.Resources@oberlin.edu to ensure staff have documentation of your request, which will then be reviewed immediately for an expedited response. We see numerous opportunities to better serve students through the use of technology and simplification of procedures, and are working to transition to new approaches and systems as quickly as possible.
As has been the case throughout its history, Oberlin is committed to providing leadership in the work to ensure full inclusion and access in higher education. Please know that Disability Resources will continue to transform into an even more effective resource as we search for new professional staffing in this area. Identifying institutional strategies to increase access is fundamental to Oberlin's mission, now as it was at its founding.
Carmen Twillie Ambar