July 06, 2016

SIU recognized for serving students with disabilities

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale has long been a leader in assuring students with disabilities have access to a good college education, and that ongoing commitment recently earned two national rankings. 

The acknowledgement is welcome and appreciated, but comes as no surprise, Sam Goodin, director of Disability Support Services at SIU, said. 

“We’ve been a leader in providing support to people with disabilities in the field of higher education since the 1950s. Delyte Morris led us in the early efforts and this has always been our role. The expectation is that SIU will be a leader in supporting students with disabilities of all types, whether physical or psychological. We appreciate that these ranking organizations recognize what we do,” Goodin said. 

SIU is No. 9 within the “10 Best Online Schools and Resources for Students with Disabilities,” an online guide from OnLineSchoolsCenter.com. The new guide, by author and higher education researcher Kenneth Williams, determined the rankings on the basis of evaluations on the accessibility of institutions and willingness to accommodate students with disabilities, particularly when it involves distance education. 

The website indicates that the flexibility and affordability of an online education makes this alternative attractive to many students, including those with some form of disability, so this online ranking platform was created. The guide also includes links to the top 10 schools and additional information geared toward students with disabilities. 

Goodin said much credit for the ranking goes to Liz Hunter, Alexis Ray and the web communications team at SIU’s University Communications and Marketing for their work in assuring that campus websites are accessible to all students. For instance, he said all photos, graphics and other elements of websites must have proper labels and codes so students using screen readers know what is there even if they can’t “see” it. And that’s just one of the ways accessibility modifications are made, Goodin noted. 

A newly developed SIU website template recently launched and is being applied to 175-200 websites. It features accessibility coding that not only meets the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA but that is always evolving in anticipation of future requirements. 

In addition, SIU earned a spot on the College Choice “2016 Ranking of the Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities.” SIU ranks 40th on the website’s “top 50” list of schools recognized for providing “exceptional support for students of all abilities” with the “best rate of return on their educational investment,” according to the College Choice website. The list was compiled based on a variety of factors including academic reputation, student satisfaction, affordability, average financial aid award and average salary of recent graduates. 

The College Choice post, which includes a photo and profile of SIU, notes a number of the services the university provides to students with disabilities including: note takers, lab assistants, testing accommodations, accessible course materials, tutorial referrals, advocacy and counseling, housing assessments, loaner Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf, interpreting and speech-to-text typists and a case coordinator fluent in sign language to assist deaf and hearing-impaired students. 

The profile also notes that SIU delivers route familiarization for new students with visual impairments along with equipment loans of items such as talking calculators and electronic note-taking systems with GPS. The Achieve Program, which offers assistance to students with learning disabilities and access to van transport and personal assistants through the Southern Illinois Center for Independent Living, also was recognized. 

While SIU’s initial accessibility efforts focused on enabling people in wheelchairs, including veterans returning home from World War II, the efforts have expanded and become more coordinated during the ensuing decades. In addition to providing a wide array of services and accommodations for students with a variety of physical disabilities, the office also helps students suffering from depression, anxiety disorder and other psychological conditions. Goodin said often times these conditions don’t present themselves until students reach college age so it’s important that help is available. 

Recent campus accessibility improvements include networking all of the adaptive technology so it can be used anywhere on campus, installing an elevator at Woody Hall and remodeling and updating the Disability Support Services office area there, which doubled the size of the office. Goodin noted that the State Division of Rehabilitation Services Counselors has also moved back to campus, giving support to students with disabilities while they are in school and assisting them in finding employment. 

During the 2015-2016 school year, SIU had more than 600 students who indicated they have some form of disability, according to Goodin.