SUNY Jamestown Community College offers students a wealth of resources and support to help them overcome any number of physical and mental health obstacles. 

Don Pool, the college’s coordinator of Accessibility Services, said 13% of JCC students are receiving assistance for an identified disability and are receiving assistance. Pool also stressed the opportunity for more students to get the help they need to succeed in and out of the classroom.

“It’s just having the tools they need to overcome the barriers,” he said. “There’s a lot of other students out there that are struggling. They either don’t identify with a disability or have never been diagnosed. Whatever the case is, they are not getting those tools.”

The challenge is connecting with every one who may face a barrier to learning. Pool said some students in high school may receive an Individualized Education Program, IEP, or 504 plan support, and “come to college expecting to still have that plan in place, but it doesn’t automatically carry over. We can’t help them until they let us know that they have a disability.”

“Once we have an idea and we can meet with the student,” he added, “putting the accommodations in place is very simple, very easy, very quick.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 24.8% of U.S. adults have a disability and, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19.4% of college undergraduate students have a disability.

In a 2022 American College Health Association survey of 54,000 undergraduates, 15% reported having an attention-deficit disorder, 5% had a general learning disability, 4% were blind or had low vision, 3% were autistic, and 2% were deaf or hard of hearing. Common disabilities of students at JCC, Pool said, include anxiety- and attention-related disorders.

Pool shared a common example of a student with a learning disability needing a quieter testing environment and/or extended time to finish exams.

“They’re hearing someone click their pen and it sounds like a jackhammer,” he said.

Other prevalent obstacles students face are keeping up with note-taking in class, typing and reading print, and seeing a board at the front of a classroom clearly. JCC delivers assistive technology to reduce and often totally remove such barriers to learning.

One such tool is a Livescribe smartpen that records audio of a lecture and instantly transfers written notes to a digital document.

“Accessibility Services helped me by being as successful and independent in the classroom as I can be through providing me assistive technology,” JCC student Juliet Lande said. “Things like my Livescribe notebook and pen, so when I’m taking notes I can go back and catch up on anything that I missed.”

JCC also has Read&Write software that reads electronic materials out loud. Pool said many students use the program to complete reading assignments.

Similarly, Pool said JCC just added SensusAccess to its arsenal of tools. With the software, a student or instructor can turn any document into one that is fully accessible, in a braille-ready format, that can also be turned into an audio file.

“If a student runs into a research paper that was published online but isn’t in an accessible format, they can download that and make it accessible right away,” Pool said. “They don’t have to worry about somebody converting it for them.”

Pool believes that the number of students seeking accessibility assistance will continue to rise. As such, he takes a progressive approach to his work, thinking about how JCC can help students with tools or practices that haven’t been used before at the college.

The support they are receiving at JCC is paying dividends. Pool reported that nearly 80 percent of the most recent class of students with disabilities either graduated or were retained from the spring semester to the fall.

Based on his regular three-year graduation rate reporting to the U.S. Department of Education, Pool shared that students with disabilities tend to perform slightly better than an average student at JCC.

A key to this success, Pool noted, is that many students he works with also actively participate in peer tutoring and other services offered by JCC’s Learning Commons.

On a grander level, the State University of New York commenced a system-wide Empowering Students with Disability Task Force in 2021 to address challenges faced by students with disabilities and provide additional educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Marion Terenzio, SUNY Cobleskill president and leader of the task force, said that SUNY is determined to “create an environment where all of our students have access to the resources they need to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Pool encourages students to check in with him often over the course of a semester. He also consults routinely with faculty and staff who interact with students daily to ensure they are receiving the support they need.

“We can be proactive,” Pool said. “I can meet with a student anytime. I’ve done that many times in a semester where they have a new barrier or something they didn’t think was going to be a problem that’s getting worse. We put a new accommodation in place and they walk out with a new letter in five minutes. It’s very simple.”

Visit sunyjcc.edu/support to learn more about JCC’s support services.

Panorama Hispano is the regional news and information newspaper for Hispanic and other diverse communities.

US Hispanics are now the largest ethnic minority in the United States numbering 54.2 million as of July 2014. Serving: Buffalo, Rochester, Fredonia, Niagara Falls, NY and Erie, PA. Outside our Market area: Visit our affiliate at: http://www.impremedia.com/

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