Office of Accessibility Offers Inclusion through Accommodation

Written by Angela Evatt, Reporter

  According to the Office of Accessibility Services, almost six percent of the students at the University of Central Missouri are currently utilizing different kinds of accommodations.

  Cathy Seeley, the director of the OAS department, said the number of students that request and receive accommodations will rise as the year continues to progress. 

  Out of approximately 10,000 students at UCM, about 600 of them have specialized accommodations that provide a stronger foundation to their paths to success. As of the first week of October, 55% of the students registered with the OAS have at least one mental health diagnosis and about 360 of the 600 have multiple disabilities.

  Junior child and family development major Selena Gonzalez is one of the few students who works at the front desk within the OAS office, and they shared that they also have specialized accommodation that supports their higher education journey. 

  “Whenever I’d listen in to the freshman campus tours, I noticed the guide would talk more about the movie theatre here on campus than the accommodations office,” Gonzalez said. 

  Accomodation isn’t always noticed, yet it provides a vital resource for many students who can feel excluded in a university setting. Accommodations allow students to receive the support they need to succeed, and it allows students who aren’t part of the majority to be included.

  Seeley has worked at UCM since 2005, and she said the love she has for her work and for the students is why she does what she does. 

  “I had a cousin that was a part of a group home, and I’d go visit her whenever I could because she wasn’t included like the rest of us,” Seeley said.

  It’s becoming more known that there are students who live life differently. It’s noteworthy that there’s a difference between getting support and receiving help. While help is something that’s implemented when one is helpless, support is something that’s put in place when one’s able to do what’s needed independently even if it’s different from the mainstream process of completion. 

  “It’s basic,” Seeley said. “It’s us, together. No them over there and us over here, just us. We need everyone.” 

  Everyone’s sense of reality has changed one way or another since the pandemic started . The adaptation of studying and doing coursework online has been effective in some regards, but based on Seeley’s observations through the requests she receives, most students have not been doing well with the online transition. Academically and socially, students can have their needs met as long as they submit their requests through the right channels.

  “Compared to other universities in Missouri, we work with the students more and within the feedback we receive, many students share that they feel heard,” Seeley said. “I just really hope it’s true.”

  Gonzalez said accommodation needs to be talked about more to help reduce the negative stigma.

  “In high school, I didn’t know it was actually possible to receive accommodations, specifically for anxiety and depression. Many think their challenges are ‘smaller’ and therefore not valid enough to go get help. But, we have them!”  

  Both Seeley and Gonzalez have expressed gratitude that a new coordinator has been hired.

  Melissa Peterson is the new coordinator at the OAS office at UCM, and she started working  in the office Sept. 1. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in special education and prior to coming to UCM, she did case management. 

  “I mostly worked with the itty-bitty and old-old, but the transition to the age group in the middle has been an absolute blast!” Peterson said. 

  Even though she has been at UCM for a short time, she said she feels like she has already been here forever.  

   “It has been so welcoming here and the space feels so comfortable,” Peterson said.

  Peterson explained that she and Seeley have been splitting all the meetings, and they cover for each other when one’s out of the office. Peterson also shared that she has been overseeing the placements of students with student staff members within the office and the testing center. 

  “Within the intakes, I find that a lot of the students request for support in time management,” Peterson said. “When they’re open to it and put in the effort, it’s really beneficial. So, I try to pair them up with the best peer mentors.”