Monday, August 21, 2006

DSS Counselor's role: Holistic or not?

Clients of the DSS office, like jewels, have many facets. The role of student is just one of those facets.

In my last position, my colleague and I embraced the faceted view of our clients and dealt with them using a holistic approach. Our belief was that whatever impacted them outside probably had a lot to do with how well they would do academically. Our supervisor gave us the blessing on this approach when he told us his vision was for the DSS office to be a one-stop shop, being counselor, advisor, or whatever else we needed to be for our students.

Granted, training and experience have a lot to do with what one can offer students. One must recognize when you have reached the limitations of what you can ethically offer to clients. It is at that point when we rely on our resources and refer the client to someone better suited to deal with the specific need.

With all that said, my question is where does the DSS office fit in the scope of providing services other than those mandated by the law? Are the ADA and Section 504 definitions of the boundaries or just the beginning of what services the DSS can provide?

When I first began work in the DSS field, several professionals referred me to Jane Jarrow, of Disability Access Information and Support, or DAIS, as the go-to person for anything related to the field.

One of the most telling disclosures I’ve heard about the DSS field in recent years was when Jane was interviewed by Beth Case for a segment on the Disability 411 podcast. In her interview, Jane’s statements really reflect that the strength of disability services is in the attitudinal definition of the word “service.” It greatly emphasizes the difference between what I’ve often termed “ADA compliant” versus “ADA friendly.” Her approach is that the ADA and Section 504 offer the beginning, not the ceiling of what DSS professionals should offer. Amen to that.

As the DSS professional, where do you see the lines drawn for the DSS counselor? Is your job strictly to address the classroom accommodations, or can the student call upon you when they need resources for personal or career counseling?

I’ll illustrate the point with a couple of case scenarios.

A student with a cognitive disability recently moved to your area from out of state to live at no cost with relatives and attend class at your school. She does not work and is receiving services from the state rehab agency. Now, due to varying circumstances, the four family members she moved in with have all had to move away. She has had some previous work experience, waitressing at a cafĂ© and working at a convenience store, but these were out of state and she can’t recall her supervisors names. She realizes her dilemma because the last relative is two weeks from moving, at which time she will be left on her own with no job and no place to live.

You are her DSS counselor and she comes to your office describing her current dynamic situation. What do you do? Do you offer any service or do you refer her to other departments and agencies that deal with her specific needs?

In another scenario, a visually impaired student comes to you, seeking advice on writing a resume and job interviewing. He said he has talked to the career counselors on campus, but he said the counselors there don’t understand him, they don’t know how to deal with the stigma of being judged on the basis of your disability instead of your abilities. In your interactions with this student, he displays interpersonal traits that make you feel he lacks the self advocacy skills needed to progress in the working world. Do you take on the role of teaching him these skills or refer him to the state blind rehab agency?

I propose these situations as just hypothetical, but I use them to illustrate my point that students have lives outside the classroom. Is it not reasonable to see the interlocking relationship between these two worlds and how they impact each other? If the disability is a particular lens that is a contributing factor impacting the situation, is it your role to assist in the student’s needs outside the classroom?

These are just questions meant to stimulate thought and, hopefully, discussion.


The DAIS website

(If you didn’t notice, that was a new DAIS homepage address, so make sure you bookmark it.)

The Disability 411 Podcast with Jane Jarrow’s interview

If you’re interested in finding out the various other discussion topics the Disability 411 Podcasts cover, then check out their homepage below. There are 25 shos already cataloged and the new school year is upon us, so I’m certain there will soon be more to come. You will also find that the holistic approach is embraced in media presentation. Beth Case does a great job at presenting the material only after a written transcript is available so that deaf people have equal access to the material. Kudos for that, Beth.

Disability 411 Podcasts

The mission of Disability 411 is:
“Disability411 provides audio workshops, interviews and information on disability-related topics for those who work with individuals with disabilities, including college disability counselors, rehabilitation counselors, K-12 special education teachers, employers, or anyone who works in the disability field. Information is also of interest for individuals with disabilities and their families. Hosted by Beth Case, a disability counselor with 10 years of experience in postsecondary disability services.”
The host of Disability 411 is Beth Case, a DSS counselor at the North Harris Montgomery Community College District. Beth is a good person and also a great resource for information in her field.

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