Seven percent of the general USF population is registered with Student Disabilities Services (SDS). Director Tom Merrell said this contrast is significant in comparison to the national average of 5 to 6 percent on college campuses.
The number of students registering at Student Disabilities Services (SDS) has been increasing year by year. Merrell said there are 685 students currently registered with the office, an all-time high in comparison to the 75 students registered with the office back in 1995.
March is Disabilities Awareness Month and ASUSF Senate in conjunction with SDS held events last week to bring more perspective on this issue. Events included a disability student panel, a forum on students with disabled students, and a picnic featuring the non-profit Guide Dogs for the Blind.
“It’s hard to say what could be triggering the increase,” said Corey Barber, Office Coordinator at SDS, “But I think that people become more and more aware of the rights that people with disabilities have especially in regards to the ADA and new laws that are being passed.”
The ADA, or American Disabilities Act, accommodates people with disabilities on multiple fronts including public transportation, state/federal government resources and employment.
However, Sophomore Nicole LoCicero said, “[Disabilities are] always kind of touchy subject at work or even in an interview. You can’t really bring it up. In an ideal world I would love just being able to be open about it, and not have it be a huge factor when you’re going in for a job.”
The wide range of intellectual and physical disabilities makes some disabilities more noticeable than others.
Eric Santarsiero, representative for students with disabilities said, “You can look at someone, and not even know whether or not they have a disability.”
Sophomore Emily Gould, a student with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, said she wants to maintain disabilities awareness by reinstating the student club Active Minds. Once the organization is recognized by Student Leadership & Engagement, Gould said the group would maintain awareness through student panels, guest speakers and film screenings on campus.
“When people become more aware and open about mental illness then the people who do have it are ashamed,” Gould said, “[They] don’t want to seek help, or are afraid of voicing out that they have an issue. They can be more confident about actually seeking help.”
Describing the organization, Students with Disabilities Representative Eva Long said, “Active Minds is a club that is present in over 300 college campuses around the country. I think there’s a lot of potential because it was once here at USF.”
Professor Patrick Boudreault, who is deaf, teaches american sign language. “One of the things that continued for the rest of my life was feeling left out and feeling alone. I really missed out on socializing, and that’s how you cope with the world,” he said.
As a graduate student Boudreault had to attend twenty hours of interpreting services per week. Six hours were spent in the classroom while the remaining fourteen hours were used to attend workshops and campus events. He said, “I hope that students don’t have to go through that fight here.”
The weeklong event also featured a “Day in the Life” carnival, where students had the opportunity to experience what it is like to have a disability. Games such as pin the tail on the donkey and limbo demonstrated physical and mental disabilities.
For sophomore Deena Tailo, people can cope with their disability by understanding their situation. Recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tailo said, “As soon as you figure out what’s going on with you, you learn how to work with it and you develop a positive perspective.”
As awareness for disabilities continues, Boudreault said, “How you define disability is a big question for all of us. It’s part of society, part of language [and] there’s a different view of the world.”
Disabilities Awareness Week was made possible through ASUSF Senate and Student Disability Services.