Office of Admissions
One Dent Drive
July 11, 2022
You're probably familiar with the age-old proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child." Well, a similar sentiment is true of college, too. It takes a whole support system to help a student get the most out of their college education and experience.
For many, that support comes in the form of accessibility resources that promote the wellbeing, productivity and confidence of students with unique academic, physical or mental health needs.
In this episode, we're talking all about accessibility at college — from learning what accessibility resources a school offers to requesting accommodations once you've been admitted and beyond.
Our guest is is Lakeisha Meyer, director of the Office of Accessibility Resources at Bucknell.
If you have a question, comment or idea for a future episode, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:00:06] BHA: You're probably familiar with the age-old proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, a similar sentiment is true of college, too. It takes a whole support system to help a student get the most out of their college education and experience.
[00:00:20] BT: For many, that support comes in the form of accessibility resources that promote the well-being, productivity and confidence of students with unique academic, physical or mental health needs. I'm Brooke Thames from Bucknell University. In this episode of College Admissions Insider, we're talking all about accessibility at college.
[00:00:39] BHA: I'm Becca Haupt Aldredge, also from Bucknell. Together, we'll navigate how to learn what accessibility resources a school offers, the process for requesting accommodations as a college student, transitioning into independence and much more.
[00:00:53] BT: Here to help us guide the conversation is Lakeisha Meyer, director of the Office for Accessibility Resources at Bucknell. Lakeisha has a Ph.D. in educational psychology and has published several book chapters and articles on topics related to identity, equity and meeting the needs of students with exceptionalities. She recently joined Bucknell in 2021, with nearly six years of experience advancing accessibility on college campuses. Welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:20] LM: Thank you.
[00:01:21] BHA: So Lakeisha’s introduction just now may have seemed a bit bite-sized, but I know your job is anything but. Can you tell us more about your role as the director for Accessibility Resources on campus?
[00:01:31] LM: Yes, absolutely. So my primary role is to make sure that all students with disabilities have equal access and support in every area of the campus environment. And part of that includes helping remove any barriers that prevent full access to the University —everything ranging from the classroom to the residence hall. So I help students receive reasonable accommodations. I support faculty in providing those accommodations. I also help educate the broader campus community about universal design for learning and supporting students with disabilities.
[00:02:05] BT: So when it comes to an accessibility office or division on college campuses in general, is that something that most students will find as they're looking at colleges?
[00:02:14] LM: Yes, absolutely. Every college campus will have someone who assists students with accessibility. It may be one person or a full office, depending on the size and needs of the institution.
[00:02:25] BHA: How are a colleges resources determined? Is it based on what a school thinks is necessary or reasonable? Or are there specific requirements or guidelines that might be mandated by law?
[00:02:36] LM: There is an overall kind of general guideline that is mandated by law, and that's that any college that receives federal funding does have to make sure that students with disabilities have equal access to all educational programs and services. That's legally mandated by the ADA and Section 504. Exactly what that looks like in terms of specific supports and services will vary depending on the institution, and most institutions will provide those supports based on an individual student's needs.
[00:03:06] BHA: ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, right?
[00:03:09] LM: Yes, that's correct.
[00:03:11] BT: So when students and families are making plans, or maybe even just jumping into the college search process, how soon should they be discussing and considering things around accessibility? Is that something that should be a top priority for students who have needs as they're doing their first Google searches for schools?
[00:03:29] LM: Yeah. That's a really great question. I absolutely think that it's something students with disabilities should prioritize early on in the search process. Students and their families should discuss what their specific accessibility needs are and using as a guide what they received in high school in terms of accommodations. That can be a good starting point for them to think about what are the types of questions they should be asking of their colleges, and what sorts of support should they be looking for. It's also important for them, though, to understand that there are some differences between the types of supports that are offered in high school and what accommodations look like in college.
[00:04:05] BT: Could you dig into that a little bit more for us? What are some examples of what might be different in high school versus college?
[00:04:10] LM: Absolutely. So the laws that kind of govern the process are different from high school to college. Because of that, there is a different level of support, where there may be more kind of individualized, one-on-one attention in the high school level, and students are really expected to develop some level of independence. Even though the accommodations may be present, some of them will look a little different because of how college is structured.
If a student, for example, is used to having extra time to complete assignments in high school, that's typically because assignments may be given that day and due the following class period. In college, most classes will have a syllabus, where everything is outlined for the entire semester. So you can plan ahead in terms of making sure that you start your assignments in time to complete them by the due date. So the accommodation of having more time to complete assignments just isn't as applicable in a college environment.
[00:05:07] BHA: That's a really great example and one I never would have thought about, so thank you. There's a lot of important conversation happening around making colleges and our campuses more accessible. So frankly speaking, are some schools more equipped or better equipped in this area than others? How can students and families figure out how accessible a school might be for them?
[00:05:28] LM: Some schools definitely may have more resources or be better equipped than others. But the one thing to keep in mind is that all campuses will value accessibility, and finding the right fit regarding that will vary depending on the specific needs of each student. So some campuses may have extensive resources and programs for students, say, on the autism spectrum. Other campuses and programs may have lots of academic support or things related to executive functioning and ADHD.
Depending on what that individual student needs, finding out what their supports and services are, I think, is an important step in deciding where the best place to go to colleges. So I usually suggest that students and their families go to the website of the schools that they're interested in to see what accessibility and other support services are available relative to their specific students’ needs.
[00:06:20] BT: So I'm curious in your role, particularly, how often are you interacting with prospective students and families and fielding questions? What do those conversations tend to look like? How are you steering them towards what they need to know?
[00:06:33] LM: Right. So I participate in the campus days where students come to campus who maybe, once they've been accepted, are deciding whether or not they're going to attend. Most of those events will have a panel where I'm one of the members of the student support panel to talk about the disability services that are offered. I also receive individual phone calls often from students and their families. These calls usually consist of really general questions. I can provide some general basic information about what we provide.
But until the student is actually a Bucknell student, I can't really provide specific information about what their accommodations might look like. So those conversations do tend to be general, but it often provides enough information for the family and the student to kind of know what the next best steps are moving forward.
[00:07:27] BT: Speaking of some of those panels and those on-campus events, sometimes the only way to know what a school is about is really to visit it yourself. So what should students and families be looking for when touring a school that can give them a sense of the school's resources and commitment to accessibility?
[00:07:45] LM: That's a really good question. I think that one of the things to pay attention to is just the language that's used. In terms of when we're thinking about inclusion of all students, making sure that individuals with disabilities are part of that conversation. Then depending on the specific student's needs — say, for example, if they have physical or mobility needs —paying attention to how easy it is to navigate campus, are there clearly identified accessible building entrances and elevators identified? So depending on the student's needs, how easy is it for them to navigate the campus, and what information is provided about kind of full inclusion of all students, regardless of disability status and other areas or aspects of diversity?
[00:08:32] BHA: Let's talk about the actual accommodation request process. When and how might a student disclose their needs to a school, and what's the process for securing those accommodations?
[00:08:42] LM: So the students can disclose once they've accepted and are officially a student at Bucknell, and self-disclosure is the only way to access accommodations. That's something else that's different from high school, where a student's kind of educational program and accommodations follows them each year. In this environment, students have to self-disclose and specifically request the accommodations that they need. The request process can't begin, though, until they are officially a student.
Schools will vary in terms of the exact process. But in general, a student will first disclose their disability, request the specific accommodations they'll need and provide documentation to support their request. At Bucknell, the request form is online. Documentation can also be uploaded electronically. So this process is really streamlined for students, and this, I think, helps alleviate some of the anxiety related to requesting accommodations and getting approved for those. As the director, I review the requests and the documentation and then begin communicating with the student about their accommodations and the next steps for them.
[00:09:48] BHA: So to plot that timeline on a calendar, some of our students may have been admitted to Bucknell as early as December in their senior year if they've applied Early Decision to Bucknell, knowing that, for Regular Decision students, our national deposit deadline is May 1. For students to become officially enrolled and matriculated to Bucknell, that's after they've paid that enrollment deposit. So I have to imagine that, Lakeisha, the spring and the summer months for you are your busiest in terms of working with students who have enrolled and are heading into their first year at Bucknell.
[00:10:18] LM: Yes, absolutely. The spring and summer. Usually, yeah, just prior to the end of the spring semester through the summer, I'm getting lots of requests, and calls, and emails and helping the students and families prepare for that transition.
[00:10:32] BT: So up top, we talked about the fact that needs can be diverse. Can you talk a little bit more about the kinds of needs that the Office of Accessibility Resources provides for and maybe some specific examples of what those resources might look like?
[00:10:45] LM: Yeah, absolutely. So the most common needs are academic or classroom-based needs in terms of students needing, say, extended time to take exams or quizzes due to conditions such as ADHD or anxiety. Most accommodations that are requested fall within the category of academic accommodations. But there are additional areas such as housing accommodations, which sometimes students and families haven't necessarily thought through because those aren't accommodations they've had to request previously.
Once a student is preparing to be on a residential campus, they may also need to think about their housing and what sorts of accommodations they might need to fully access that. So if a student has, say, chronic health conditions, where they need access to bathroom or kitchen. Or, say, mobility issues, where they want to make sure they are housed in a residence hall that either has an elevator or they're on the first floor. So those are the sorts of housing accommodation needs that sometimes parents and students might want to think about.
Then the academic accommodations really can apply to lots of different diversity of disability areas. So the diagnosis that a student has isn't really the kind of most important part of that. But more functionally, what does that look like? So whether a student has ADHD or anxiety, if they're having trouble focusing, and they need to be able to take their tests in a distraction-reduced area, accommodation can be provided, and we have a testing center, for example, on campus that provides support so that students do have a space to take their tests in an environment that fits what their needs are.
[00:12:32] BT: It sounds like you are collaborating with a bunch of different divisions on campus to really provide that network of support. Is that right?
[00:12:39] LM: Yes, that's correct. So I collaborate a lot with housing, just prior to the housing selection process. During the summer, as housing services is working to identify the best place for incoming students to live, we take into consideration any accommodation needs and also collaborate with other offices that support students outside of just specific accommodations. Our Teaching & Learning Center, for example, provides tutoring services, study groups, support for students who may need help with executive functioning, which includes things like planning, organization and time management. I often will help students connect to some of these other resources or the Counseling Center, for example.
So that's one of the nice things about our campus in particular. As was mentioned earlier, it takes a village, and I feel like there really is a connection across the various offices across campus, and we really do work together to support all of our students.
[00:13:37] BT: Yeah, that's awesome. So a minute ago, Becca helped orient us on a timeline in terms of first requesting accommodations. But I wonder if a student's needs change throughout their four years. Can they make requests as needed?
[00:13:49] LM: Yes, absolutely. So a student can request accommodations at any point during their four years or make changes to existing accommodations if they make that request when they first started. Some deadlines exist, but I call them “loose deadlines” in the sense that, for housing accommodations, for example, having accommodation information is really important prior to the housing selection process. But requests can be made at any time and will be reviewed at any time. It just may be a bit more challenging to provide the space that a student needs without kind of meeting some of those deadlines. But with academic accommodations, those can be put in place at any point.
So even though I do encourage students to think about that right when they're starting their college experience, if for some reason they do not, they can make that request at any point or make changes at any point.
[00:14:43] BHA: So in our last episode, we talked a little bit about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which allows college students to seal their educational records from their families. Are there any privacy options when it comes to accessibility?
[00:14:56] LM: FERPA actually also applies to educational records related to accessibility. So the information that is housed in the Office of Accessibility Resources also falls within that. So a student's specific accessibility and accommodation information can't be shared with families, if a student chooses to seal their educational records. So that falls within FERPA. It's not a separate process that they have to kind of complete in order to protect that information.
[00:15:25] BT: So when students and families are first coming to you to get their accommodations sorted out, do you ever have to help parents transition into more of a backseat and empower the students to take more of a forward role in getting what they need?
[00:15:39] LM: Yes. That is something that does happen. Usually, I encourage parents to reach out early if they do have questions or significant concerns. But then I'll have a conversation with them about how can we help support their student to becoming a stronger self-advocate, trusting their student and trusting us as the staff at the institution to help connect that student to the appropriate supports.
I think part of it is helping parents understand that we care about their student’s success. Most parents want to be really involved because they've had to be very involved in their student’s educational experience up until this point. So I don't expect that to be a sudden handoff, like all of a sudden the parent’s not involved. I really expect that to be a gradual process, and I try to encourage lots of communication between the student and their family to help kind of guide that process.
[00:16:32] BT: Yeah. Speaking of communication between students and families, yeah, is there anything else you can say about how parents and families can stay up to date on how their student is doing?
[00:16:41] LM: Yeah. I think the most important thing is for families to communicate directly with their student, and to have a really open and honest conversation prior to them beginning their college experience about what information the student wants the parent to be informed about. What information does the parent want from the student? I think an open and honest conversation about that prior to starting college can really help make that whole experience much easier. Similar to the parents, students have to kind of agree on how often do they want to hear from each other. So your parent or your family expects a phone call every day. As a student, you're like, “I'll reach out once a week.” Having a conversation about where's the middle ground there.
I think the same thing applies to staying up to date on how the student is doing in college. Especially during the first semesters at college, I really do think parents want to make sure that their student’s handling the transition well. So reaching out to the Office of Accessibility Resources if they have significant concerns may be an important part of that — just keeping in mind, the FERPA guidelines in terms of what can be discussed.
I think, in general, families want to support students in establishing their independence and self-efficacy skills. I feel like part of my job as the director of the Office of Accessibility Resources is to show parents that their student can and is successfully advocating for themselves, that they're taking advantage of the supports and services that are offered, and help that family gradually shift from taking the lead to more of a supportive role.
[00:18:17] BHA: Like you mentioned, college is a big transition to independence and also comes with this heightened sense of responsibility. How might you advise the students that you work with to advocate for themselves and their needs while in college?
[00:18:29] LM: I think it's important for the student to understand their specific needs —understand their disability, how it impacts them to really think about what services and supports have been helpful for them up to this point — and to take that information and use that to connect with our office, and connect with us early.
Establishing relationships, I think, is one of the most important ways to build self-advocacy skills. As a student, if you have a strong relationship, say, with the Office of Accessibility Resources or your professors, when it does come to a point that you need to ask for support or advocate for yourself, that's much easier to do when you already have an established relationship with that staff member or faculty member. So I also encourage students to never be afraid to ask for help and express what they need. I think that's much easier when you have a strong relationship kind of as the foundation of that.
I'm also very willing to help students transition into that role. So there are times where I may have a meeting with a student and a faculty member to discuss accommodations. Sometimes, I may do something as simple as helping the student kind of draft or write that first email to their professor to ask a question about accommodations or to request some additional support. So I really advise students to connect with me if they're having trouble kind of developing those skills. I believe really strongly that we can support them throughout their time at Bucknell and that by the time they're a junior or senior, they're strong self-advocates and are able to access all of the supports that they need.
[00:20:08] BT: This episode has been full of great tips, advice and insight. But I suspect we've only scratched the surface here. Lakeisha, is there anything most of us wouldn't think about that you want students and families to be mindful of as they navigate their college journey?
[00:20:24] LM: I do think we've covered a lot of the important kind of basics related to this. But one of the things I just like to remind families of is that I understand that they may have been the primary people ensuring that their student received what they needed educationally. As we mentioned, developing those strong self-advocacy skills…one tip that I would provide that we didn't necessarily discuss specifically is beginning developing those skills their junior or senior year in high school — to really actively encourage the student to take the lead when they have their IEP meeting at school to discuss their accommodations. That rather than a family taking the lead on that, encourage the student to take the lead, encourage the student to communicate directly with their teachers about their accommodations, and to really start that at least by the junior and senior year of high school.
Then also, I encourage families to get to know the institution and trust. I think getting to know the institution will lead to the development of trust that the faculty and staff really are there to support their student success. So communicating with the student about what they need and how they should communicate that to the institution, but also just getting to know the college as a family, being involved in the more appropriate outlets for families to be involved. There are ways for families to be engaged, even though they may not be directly involved in making sure the student receives their accommodations. So finding ways to connect to the institution, I think, helps families feel more confident and comfortable in kind of handing off their most precious person to them, handing them over to us.
[00:22:11] BHA: Well, I know I feel good about having a Lakeisha Meyer on our campus, and hopefully our listeners feel good going into their college search processes, knowing that there's someone on a college campus that's going to help support them and help them navigate this process so that they're not alone. Lakeisha, thanks so much for being here and speaking with us today.
[00:22:30] LM: Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss this. It's been great. Thanks.
[00:22:34] BT: And thanks to everyone out there for listening. If you're a fan of the podcast, please take a moment to rate, subscribe and share this episode with students, parents and families in your life.
[00:22:43] BHA: We'll be back with another new episode in two weeks. In the meantime, send your questions, comments and episode ideas to email@example.com. We read every note that arrives in our inbox.
[00:22:55] BT: Finally, you're invited to follow Bucknell on all of your favorite social media apps. Just look for @bucknellu on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok. You could also follow our student-run Instagram account, which is @iamraybucknell.
[00:23:09] BHA: Until next time, keep reaching for your dreams and your dream school.
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