By Jesse Taylor
Across the country universities provide accommodations for students under the Americans with Disabilities Act. At SUNY Plattsburgh, the Accessibility Resource Office is charged with implementing accommodations for 1,007 students with only three staff members. Previously known as Student Accessibility Services, ARO provides accommodations in the form of different color handouts for students with visual impairments, bathroom accessibility, extended time for taking tests and note taking services.
The department chose to rebrand itself for a few different reasons. There was a lot of confusion between the names Student Support Services and Student Accessibility Services — two completely different departments within the same school, but both with similar names.
However, each department provides different services. SSS focuses on academic advisement, financial aid and tutoring services, while ARO focuses solely on providing accommodations to students.
Jennifer Curry, director of ARO, said, “We didn’t think the word ‘services’ adequately reflects the support that we give, because what we do is we make sure that students have access to the resources they need to be independent and to self-advocate.”
Additionally, ARO wanted to be more inclusive of all kinds of students. ARO discovered through research that most campuses were going with the term “accessibility.” By including the term “accessibility” in its name, the office hopes that transfer students will know where to look when trying to find accommodations.
To further help students easily access accommodations, ARO will be rolling out a new system called Accommodate in the fall. It is a software that gives students who register with ARO for accommodations access to their own portal. The way it works is that if a student looks through the portal and sees an accommodation they think would benefit them, they can inform Curry with the click of a button. Curry hopes that it will also let students know that the staff of ARO is always available to them.
Curry also wanted to emphasize the importance of students being able to easily access accommodations, especially considering that the demand for accommodations has been steadily on the rise. Laura Cronk, coordinator of extended time testing, said that during midterms this semester she expects to be administering 50 to 80 tests a day.
ARO works closely with John Locke, the Electronic Information Technology officer who is a member of the Technology Enhanced Learning staff.
“Our job is to work with faculty so that they can help their students,” Locke said.
Locke ensures that students are able to access resources “that an instructor has provided to them.” However, because so many students on campus need accommodations in order to be successful, it is hard for Locke and his staff to handle it by themselves.
The workaround for this is that they provide workshops and training to faculty so that they can implement accessibility into the resources they provide themselves. Additionally, there is a program called Ally that checks PDFs instructors upload and provides a gauge on whether the resource is ADA-compliant. It also allows students to download alternative versions of PDFs that accommodate students with disabilities.
To download an alternative version of a PDF, students need only to look next to any PDF within Moodle. There is a symbol next to the PDF that looks like an uppercase “A” with an arrow pointing down. By clicking on this symbol, students will be able to access an alternate version of the PDF file.
“They look like speedometers next to each document,” Locke said.
Whether a student needs extended time testing, note-taking services or has visual impairments, ARO is there to help. With the rebranding of SAS to ARO, the department hopes that their services will be easier to find and access.
Students looking for the Accessibility Resource Office can find it at 011 Macomb Hall. Students can also email ARO@plattsburgh.edu to speak with Curry to request accommodations or call 518-564-2810.
“It’s just really important that people know where to find us,” Curry said.