Disabled students find UM a welcoming campus

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Students with disabilities are very welcome at the University of Montevallo.

When you take a walk around the campus or have lunch in the UM caf/, you are very likely to meet a student in a wheelchair or one using a cane.

They seem to fit right in with the rest of the student body.

These are just a few of the students at UM who need accommodations for various disabilities.

A few years ago, gaining a college education would have been very difficult for some of these students.

In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act was passed requiring that public buildings become more accessible for the handicapped.

The rules and the enforcements were both strengthened in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Montevallo and most other educational institutions have made a real effort to comply with that law.

Paul Boyd, a local quadriplegic student, has expressed many times his deep appreciation for UM.

He always adds that without these special services, he could never gain a college education.

Paul expects to graduate next year.

A visit with Deborah McCune, coordinator of Disability Support Services, reaffirms the hospitality disabled students feel when they come to UM.

She is so enthusiastic and she loves to talk about her work with these students.

You know, when she tells you about the services, that there is a real desire on campus to make these students comfortable and to help them become more independent.

This fall there were 205 students on the campus with learning disabilities, medical and/or orthopedic problems, emotional or psychological problems or other medical crises.

Of this number there were eight to 10 in wheelchairs or scooters and there were four or five deaf students. Most of them feel that Montevallo is &8220;the place to be&8221; because UM provides an environment that is so friendly to their needs.

McCune expressed:

&8220;The goal of our office is to serve as a liaison between students and faculty, assisting in the accommodation process and providing equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. To qualify for services, students must provide documentation of the disability and how that disability impacts the academic environment.&8221;

She added, &8220;Accommodations and other services are intended to &8216;level the playing field&8217;, not to provide a benefit or advantage.

Accommodations must be reasonable and directly related to the disability condition.

Accommodations should not alter essential functions of a course or assignment.&8221;

Parents and teachers of these students usually make many decisions for them during the K-12 years.

McCune explained that at the college level, students must take that responsibility and this is often a difficult transition for parents.

She tries to educate parents and assist students as they go through this vital process.

Services are fitted to the eligible student&8217;s needs and might include accessible walkways and parking, note-taking support, classroom relocation or providing a sign language interpreters.

Other accommodations could include the installation of grab bars or the lowering of paper towel holders.

Some students are assigned special rooms in the residence hall where they can be independent.

The list of services for disabled students at UM is extensive.

Most important is the fact that these students are offered and given the necessary assistance to live and learn in a warm and generous atmosphere.

Catherine Legg can be reached at mailto:clegg2@bellsouth.net