Updates to Student Disability Services

Approximately 11% of the general student population is registered with SDS. Photo by Jordan DelFiugo/SF Foghorn

This past month, Student Disability Services (SDS) announced changes to their current services in their email newsletter

SDS arranges accommodations for students with disabilities. The office provides a wide range of accommodations like extended testing time, interpreter services and alternative media formats. The office currently serves 1,078 students, according to Tom Merrell, assistant dean and director of SDS. These students make up approximately 11% of USF’s student population and are assisted on an individual basis.

The first change announced was the expansion of accommodation options. One addition, in partnership with Educational Technology Services (ETS), is Texthelp. Texthelp is software that contains digital literacy tools to help with tasks such as reading text aloud, converting images to a readable format, creating notes as mp3 files, and making math content accessible. 

SDS also introduced three accessibility awareness initiatives focused on raising awareness about disability-related issues by hosting a variety of workshops, one-on-one training, and discussions. They also aim to make course materials, teaching methods, and physical spaces on campus more accessible, and to better address the mental health needs of students with disabilities. 

Additionally, the spring 2023 external review of SDS conducted by “outside experts in disability service provision,” according to their newsletter, has inspired changes. The overall external assessment was positive but highlighted some key needs, one of which is the need for a dedicated testing center. SDS currently proctors tests in their office on the lower level of Gleeson Library. 

The review said SDS needs a bigger testing space and highlighted a need for a new office location. When not entering through the library, the entrance is right beside “the industrial-sized dumpsters,” as Merrell said. Kendrick Lacerda, senior philosophy major and SDS student representative for the Senate of the Associated Students of the University of San Francisco, said he hopes “the office will one day be relocated to a more accessible location,” and that “the [current] message is negative.”

Another concern is the number of SDS staff members. They currently have a team of seven staff members made up of five disability specialists and two full-time office coordinators. Merrell said, “Additional specialists are definitely needed — our external reviewers recommended adding additional specialists as our numbers have increased. Budgets permitting, we hope to increase our staff in the next one to two years.”

The newly formed Disabled Student Union (DSU) is working to create a social space “focused on visibility, pride, and enacting change on campus,” according to the Sept. 13 SDS Fall 2023 Newsletter. 

“I see it as an opportunity to connect with my constituency as SDS Rep. Additionally, I look forward to working with everyone at DSU to bring concerns to administrators,” Lacerda said.  

He continued, “I feel like the club has a potential to be quite powerful for disability advocacy at USF. The administration takes us more seriously when we have student voices, and the DSU allows disabled students to combine their voices.” DSU is currently working to be recognized as an official club. 

Merrell said, “There’s a stigma … surrounding [going] to disability services.” He wants students to know: “We’re here [for] everyone and anyone who’s experiencing difficulty due to their disabilities.” 

To learn more about SDS and what they offer, visit their website or go to their office in Gleeson LL 20. To learn more about applying for services, you can find the intake/eligibility process detailed step-by-step on their page. If you have any questions for SDS, you can contact them at sds@usfca.edu

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Oct. 26 to correct false information. In an earlier version of this article,  Kendrick Lacerda was misquoted as saying the DSU is “focused on visibility, pride, and enacting change on campus.” This quote is from the Sept. 13 SDS Fall 2023 Newsletter.


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