Cyn Gomez discovered they’d taken the benefits of online learning for granted when they landed on the UC Berkeley campus as a second-year student in autumn 2022. The move to in-person classes was challenging due to their depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities. They sought accommodations from the university’s Disabled Students’ Program in order to be excused from some absences in class and gain access to lectures that had been taped.
It took Gomez three weeks to get an appointment with a disability specialist. By the time they were approved for accommodations two months had passed. Gomez sought accommodations which included recorded lectures and flexible attendance.
As they seek accommodations from their colleges’ disability services, disabled students across the University of California encounter lengthy wait times and staff shortages. The provision of one disability specialist for every 250 disabled undergraduate students is a goal that a UC workgroup is contemplating pursuing.
However, the recommendations are not yet final. All eight undergraduate campuses that disclosed their student-to-specialist ratios to CalMatters stated that they fell short of the target. Schools report experts’ caseloads of up to 600 students.
As schools struggle to recruit and pay the disability specialists in charge of reviewing and approving individuals’ housing and academic accommodations – which can include note-taking services, on-campus transportation, extra time for exams, and more – disabled students say the delays have left them academically and emotionally drained. In response, the UC Student Association is demanding increased state funding for the fiscal year 2023-24 and beyond in order to hire more than 100 new specialists.
Staffing shortages can disrupt students’ classes, particularly on a 10-week quarter schedule, according to Marvia Cunanan, a UC Santa Barbara student who is helping to lead the student association’s fight for increased state financing.
The quarter system moves really quickly. According to Cunanan, who is autistic and was given an ADHD diagnosis in their first year at UCSB, if you go two or three weeks without accommodations, you’ve already had two quizzes or an assignment that required more time. Cunanan stated that they rely on extra time on tests, flexibility on long-term assignments, note taking services, and the use of text to speech software. Someone’s academic career could be seriously impacted if those things weren’t arranged.
7% of UC students received disability services accommodations in the 2020-21 school year, up from 5% in the 2017-18 school year. Some campus administrators claim that over the past 20 years, the number of disabled pupils they have served has increased at a rate that has outpaced the employment rates of the centers.
According to Adam Kasarda, director of UC Irvine’s Disability Services Center, the rising demand for services is due in part to increased assistance for impaired students in K-12 institutions, which has made it easier for them to continue higher education. Simultaneously, as the stigma surrounding disabilities has faded, more students have felt empowered to seek adjustments, he said.
Disabled people deserve a college degree. Disabled people need to have institutional barriers to higher education removed. We can accomplish so much if we are given the support we need.
Tagami, Megan. “UC Disability Services Understaffed, Students Say.” CalMatters, 22 May 2023, calmatters.org/higher-education/2023/05/university-of-california-disability/.