My previous article offered suggestions to help you encourage students to register with your office as soon as they enroll. Think about who might help you in such an effort, and get creative.
Consider parents as allies in your efforts to persuade students to register, since they are often the ones who have been their student’s advocate, and they will likely be very interested in seeing their student continue to receive services. Rowan University Director of Disability Services John Woodruff speaks on a panel for parents during orientation. He shares tales of students who saw college as a chance for a fresh start as a way of alerting parents to the idea that their student may not wish to register, something parents may not have considered. To make sure that parents know that disability services are available (something parents may not even realize), Erin Ferrara, coordinator of disability services at the Oregon Institute of Technology, discusses her role at the Student Success Center and also tells them about her DS role, so that they are aware of the presence of her office. Students who are thinking about trying college without their accommodations may change their mind if their parents talk to them about it.
Coordinate with other offices, too, to get the word out about your services. Students interact with so many departments, and each one can be an ally for you.
Admissions is a logical partner in letting students know that disability services are available. Carolyn Malloch, director of the State University of New York at Albany’s Disability Resource Center, says her office is pointed out on all campus tours. This might be the first time families become aware that students can have accommodations at college. Bonni Alpert, director of student disability services at Western New England University, says her school’s admissions officers take her brochures with them to hand out on the road. And admissions staff members know to refer students who ask questions about or show an interest in accommodations to her office at a designated time each day when she has made herself available for such consultations. In addition to these in-person efforts, make sure that any acceptance emails or packets admissions sends out — both to prospective and to admitted students — include information about your office and provide registration forms. Having admissions spread the word about your office can serve as a positive sign to students that they can expect to be supported at your school.
Consider engaging the staff of other support offices that refer students to you, such as TRIO, advising, the testing center, veterans’ services, adult and continuing education, and the health center. Ask to attend a staff meeting so you can let these offices know what services you can offer, answer their questions, and ask them to pass out your brochures.
Make the webmaster your ally, too. SUNY Albany has a webpage with a checklist for accepted students; one item says “Report a Disability, Need for Testing/Academic Accommodations, or IEP/504 Plan” and serves as a link to disability services’ webpage. Nancy C. Leonard, director of disability services at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, works with her webmaster to make sure it takes only a click or two to reach her office’s site. Making sure that links to your webpage appear on multiple pages of your school’s site and that it doesn’t take long to get to your office’s page can let students know there is a DS office for them and prevent them from getting frustrated trying to reach you.
If your school has a marketing department, use it! Leonard has marketing produce posters that are placed all over campus and provide her office’s contact information in the context of a positive message. Such advertising can help alert students to your services and send the message that you are part of the typical college experience, just like the clubs and activities that are typically advertised.
Don’t neglect to engage faculty members, who can inform students about accommodations by putting a statement about how to contact disability services on their syllabi and by referring students who are struggling. Ferrara does question-and-answer sessions at department meetings and educates faculty members about what she does and how they can refer students to her. Leonard asks to speak at new faculty orientations. Her instructor handbook is available on her school’s professional development website, and she writes a short, disability-related newsletter that is emailed to all college employees each semester. Making yourself known and available to staff and faculty can help to encourage people to send students to you.
Your students interact with so many different offices on campus. Make sure they all know to refer students to you for assistance.