What does the current practice look like?
The disability service office budget is the funding source for accommodation expenses; assistive technologies; staff salaries, travel and training; and office supplies and equipment. When the existing budget is inadequate, the office administrator makes a specific request for additional funding. An alternative model is to bill institutional departments for accommodations related to their students, programs or activities.
- There is institutional pressure to keep funding within established limits and to spend at a steady rate (i.e. at the 6-month period the budget should be at 50%).
- Requests for additional funding invite challenge because there is no institutional plan to anticipate or address the natural ebb and flow of expenses that occur from year-to-year or semester-to-semester.
What are the implicit messages?
- When additional funds are requested, it is seen as a failure on the part of the director. Pressure to remain within the existing budget may cause staff to deny accommodations that best ensure access.
- The cost of accommodations is inaccurately perceived as the responsibility of one campus unit or administrative division rather than as an institution-wide responsibility.
- Requests for additional funds are usually connected to a specific student’s request and invite inappropriate speculation about that student’s personal situation.
- Disabled students are perceived as a financial drain on the institution. This may be particularly relevant when academic departments are directly billed for their students’ accommodations.
- The implementation of appropriate accommodations can be in limbo awaiting funding decisions. This may lead to legal vulnerability. Students are denied access during deliberations and feel like a burden on the institution.
- Office infrastructure, such as technology upgrades, professional development and staffing decisions, can be sacrificed in deference to covering accommodation costs.
- Determining whether an accommodation is reasonable through extensive analysis of budgetary constraints can send the message that creating access is negotiable.
How could this be different?
Separate budgets to address access and inclusion:
- An Operational Fund: Establish a budget to support only the infrastructure of the service office, including staff, accommodation coordination expenses, office supplies and equipment, professional development and highly predictable assistive technology costs.
- An Accommodation Fund: Establish a budget to fund the cost of accommodations that are unpredictable and can fluctuate greatly, such as interpreting, transcription, captioning, book conversions, unexpected AT hard or software or facility modification made as an individual accommodation. Clear delineation of the appropriate use (accommodations rather than office infrastructure or fixed expenses) of these funds is essential to maintaining strong administrative support for an open-ended financial obligation. Encouraging regular review of the account and its expenses and allowing funds to roll-over at fiscal year-end or operate in the red are additional strategies for making it an effective funding source. The resource office has the autonomy to use funds as necessary to remove barriers and implement accommodations so that access occurs as quickly as possible.
What is the potential impact of this change?
- The institution sends a clear message that it is committed to providing access and has implemented proactive steps to ensure a timely response.
- Access solutions are not negatively impacted by funding challenges. All required solutions can be implemented quickly and without inappropriate invasion into the student’s personal situation or embarrassment.
- The work of the disability resource office is valued and will not be compromised by stripping essential resources to cover the costs of accommodations.
- The responsibility for access belongs to the institution as a whole, not only to the disability service office or student affairs division.
- The ebb and flow of expenses from year to year is recognized as natural, simply the cost of doing business, rather than as the result of enrolling particular students.