What is current practice?
A mission statement is an action-oriented statement that describes how a vision will be achieved. Typical mission statements for disability service offices include components that focus on:
- Compliance with legal mandates
- Provision of services and accommodations that help students to achieve
- Significant responsibility for institution-wide access
In accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the disability service office ensures that all educational programs are accessible to qualified students with disabilities through the provision of support services and accommodations which allow students to reach their full potential.
The mission of the disability service office is to eliminate physical and academic barriers and to fulfill the Division of Student Affairs concept of assisting students in achieving their educational, career, and personal goals through the full range of institutional and community resources.The office was established to ensure that students with special needs receive support services and accommodations to allow them equal access to all programs and the opportunity to realize their potential.
The Mission of the disability service office is to provide and coordinate support services and programs that enable students with disabilities to receive equal access to an education within legal mandates and to be judged on their abilities not their disabilities.
What are the implicit messages?
- Fulfilling legal mandates relative to access is tricky and requires the establishment and funding of a special office. Therefore in order to protect the institution, all interactions with disabled students should be coordinated with the service office.
- Disabled students cannot achieve without support.
Students who use the office should remember that they are different, don’t fit with the normal operation of the institution and are a burden.
- The reason the institution provides accommodations or strives for inclusion is to avoid litigation.
- Responsibility for access is the sole responsibility of the disability service office.
How might this be different?
Mission statements can be drafted to represent disability as an aspect of diversity and access as an issue of social justice, and equity. They can explicitly recognize the power of design to include or exclude and frame access as an environmental concern rather than an individual problem.
The disability resource office leads the campus community in its commitments to recognize disability as a valued aspect of diversity, to embrace access as a matter of social justice, and to design more welcoming and inclusive environments.
The disability resource office collaborates with the institution’s diverse community to ensure that all aspects of campus life — learning, working and living — are universally accessible. The office provides the institution with resources, education and direct services in order that people with disabilities may have a greater opportunity to achieve social justice and equity.
Essential to the larger mission of the institution, the disability resource office office promotes universally designed environments and facilitates accommodations, training, collaboration and innovative programming.
The disability resource office works to create inclusive and sustainable learning and working environments and facilitate access, discourse, and involvement through innovative services and programs, leadership, and collaboration.
What is the potential impact of this change?
- The problem and the solution belong to the entire campus community.
- The office is seen as having a leadership role rather than sole responsibility.
- Disabled students are valued.
- The campus commitment is not simply a reaction to legal requirements but a part of a larger institutional commitment.
- The primary role is focused on creating a more inclusive campus rather than on accommodations or services to students.
- The stage is set for inserting disability resource professionals into larger campus discussions.
Thornton, M and Downs, S. (2010). “Walking the Walk: Social Model and Universal design in the Disabilities Office. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. Association on Higher Education and Disability: 23 (1), 74-80.