Thursday, August 31, 2006

One out of five college students self mutilate

Can you imagine the number of students on your caseload if that figure were almost one fifth of your school’s entire population?

Its possible.

It would be a reality if the number of students in a recent study of self mutilation rates among college students are accurate, and that entire group came to you with a proper diagnosis.

Let me explain.
I was doing some web research this morning when I came across an article from Fox News. The article actually ran in early June and is about
self mutilation rates among college students
at two Ivy League universities, Cornell and Princeton. The frequency rate at these two colleges is nearly twenty percent. That’s one out of every five students.

The scope of this study includes not only cutting, but also burning and other methods of self injurious behavior.

According to the article, the frequency rates are similar to those reported at colleges, high schools, and middle schools across the nationn. It also reported more than 400 web sites dedicated to the subject of self mutilation.

After the earlier post here about cutting rates among young people on the wholeI felt compelled to provide additional information on this subject, as it is particular to college students.

In this Fox article, not only was this survey conducted with actual college students, but at two of the supposedly more elite universities of our country. If it is happening at this frequency there, there is a strong likelihood that it is happening at your school at similar rates.

These students have a noticeable psychological condition due to the dysfunction their behavior is causing in their daily living. The same question that was raised in the previous post on cutting can be raised again. If a student self identifies about the underlying psychological condition at the root of their cutting, what accommodations do DSS professionals make?

Just food for thought.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Eemergency evacuation plans and students with disabilities

With the new school year freshly underway, all colleges and universities need to have plans in place for safe evacuation of students with disabilities. This includes dorms and residence halls. Many schools made sure to draw up these types of plans when the Sept. 11 tragedy highlighted the difficult task that people with disabilities can have when they need to leave a building during an emergency. Once the plans are developed, it is important that they are periodically revisited to account for any necessary changes.

How about your school? If there is an emergency and either the classroom buildings or dorms need to be evacuated, do you have a plan in place for getting your students with disabilities out of the buildings? When was the last time you reviewed your school’s plan?

If you need assistance in developing or refocusing your evacuation plan, the following ten questions from the
Easter Seals
web site may aid as a guide in this task. (The questions are directed towards the individuals with disabilities, prompting them to plan for their own safety, but are easily modified for perspective taking.)

1. Do you need help with personal care, or use adaptive equipment to meet your personal care needs?
• What assistance would you need in an emergency?
• What would you do if water or electricity were cut off?

2. Do you need accessible transportation?

3. Do you need assistance to leave your home or office?

4. How will you need to be alerted to an emergency?

5. If elevators are not working, do you have a back-up plan?

6. Who will be available and know how to help you exit?

7. Will you need mobility aids to exit?
• Will you need back-up mobility aids when you reach a safe place?

8. Do you need medical supplies available in a safe place?

9. Will you need assistance in training and caring for a service animal?

10. Who needs to know where you will be after an emergency evacuation?

These questions really place the focus where planning for emergency evacuation of people with disabilities should be directed. When an emergency arises, it is too late to develop an evacuation plan for students with disabilities. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough how critical it is to be proactive in doing this.

I encourage you to pull out your school’s emergency evacuation plan and read over it. Then look over your caseload and see what concerns each of your students might have in the event of an emergency evacuation. If the provisions in place do not address the concerns of the students you serve as the DSS Coordinator, then it is your inherent duty to bring this need to the person who has authority over your school’s plan.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Publishers Launch Look-Up Service to Speed Delivery of Course Materials

If you’re looking to expand your catalog of access tools, (and who isn’t?) then the Association of American Publishers (AAP) has just ramped up a service that should prove a valuable resource for you.

According to the official press release,
“Higher education publisher members of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) today launched a beta version of a Publisher Look-Up Service. The online search tool, found at
will enable Disabled Student Services (DSS) professionals who are seeking text materials in alternate formats for print-disabled students to more easily contact publishers.”

“The Publisher Look-Up Service is a first step in AAP’s Alternative Formats Solutions Initiative (AFSI), a national effort to identify ways to provide print-disabled post-secondary students with specially formatted course materials on a timely basis. AFSI research showed that publishers could make an immediate difference by launching the Publisher Look-Up Service, while still exploring longer-term solutions.”

The entire text of the press release can be viewed at:
The APP web site

If you want to see what else the APP has to offer, their homepage is:

There is a link on the page specifically for Higher Education.

This new service is a good supplement to the publisher contacts that
already offers to its members. Between the two of these resources, access to accessible materials by DSS professionals, and the students they serve, continues to improve.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another resource for creating accessible PowerPoint presentations

I was doing some follow-up research on the earlier post of creating accessible PowerPoint presentations when I came across the following informative site, hosted by Adobe, the parent company of the Macromedia Flash animation software.

Creating Accessible PowerPoint
The site gives specific suggestions on how to make PowerPoint presentations accessible to both blind and deaf people. I give them their props for having a good textual description of what they were explaining. It was very clear and to the point on how the creator can best meet the needs of both blind and deaf viewers of Power Point presentations.

If you lack either the time or interest to participate in the web training event discussed on Access Ability last week, then check out what Adobe has to say about creating accessible PowerPoint.

Again, the price of this resource is right-- absolutely free!

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.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Great resource for ADD and ADHD

My last several posts have all been relating to physical disabilities. So, in keeping a more accurate reflection of the caseloads of DSS offices, let me shift my topic for this one.

A good number of students at colleges and universities that receive services from their DSS office have a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. I recently came across a great

web site
that offers, not only the host’s professional expertise as a valuable resource for information about this disability, but has useful links to further help anybody needing more information on the matter.

The host of the web site, Dr. Thomas Brown, is a Yale-trained clinical psychologist and also maintains a private practice in Hamden, CT. specializing in assessment and treatment of high-IQ children, adolescents and adults with ADD and related problems. Additionally, Dr. Brown is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and is Associate Director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders. He has credentials as a presenter with many of the professional psychological, psychiatric, and medical organizations, in addition to working internationally in this chosen field of expertise.

I have spent a good amount of time today exploring Dr. Brown’s web site. There is more information there than I can digest and store in my mind at this time. With this in mind, it is now bookmarked as one of my professional resources. The site is invaluable as a resource for information relating to AD/HD.
Read over Dr. Brown’s site and see what you think. And, make sure to bookmark it for yourself, as it is extremely rich in content and resources.

(Note: Access Ability is not sponsored or affiliated by the organization discussed in the above post. The information is being offered on Access Ability merely as another resource to enhance further development of the DSS field.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Free Web Conference: Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations

Being that I’m a blind computer user, it probably makes sense that one of my pet concerns is accessible computing and media. It makes no sense to live in a digital age, where, at least in theory, all material should be accessible without duplication of effort. We all know that this isn’t always the case. As technology evolves, so does material and, too often, it seems that access technology is following behind and trying to catch up with the pack. However, more than lapses in technology, it is lapses in attitude or the plain, old-fashioned, I didn’t think about those people,” that excludes students with disabilities from media presentations.

In a previous post, I mentioned that web offerings of the school need to be accessible. This accessibility includes on-line publications such as electronic versions of newspapers and newsletters as well as the different departmental websites. This line of thought needs to be taken a step further to include PowerPoint presentations, which have become integral to the learning environment.

Those ubiquitous PowerPoint presentations have become such a big part of the college learning experience that it has become almost mandatory that students have some mastery of using this Microsoft program by the time they graduate. There have been advances by the engineers at Microsoft in making the program itself accessible, but too often it is the content, not the application, which is not accessible, leaving students with disabilities out of the information loop.

How often are visually impaired students left to wonder what was presented in a PowerPoint slide show that offered visual support to a speaker’s program. With streaming audio becoming more and more involved as part of Powerpoint presentations, where does this leave deaf students?

With proactive attitudes, colleges and universities can embrace access as an integral part of media presentations. Schools should encourage and foster universal design by their faculty and staff. The DSS office can be the linking mechanism that brings together this enhanced awareness.

Just as with the previous post about accessible computing, I’m not one to complain without providing an alternative. I offer a good and again, free, resource for helping to resolve this problem.

EASI, Equal Access to Software and Information, is offering a free web conference on how to create narrated Powerpoint presentations and adding streaming captions. These two production aspects empower presenters to share their information to a broader audience.

*Creating Narrated PowerPoint and Adding Streaming Captions
*Date: Sept. 11, 2006
*Time 2 pm EDT

If interested, or to register, check out the EASI Clinic web page at:

According to the clinic web site, interested parties must register to participate. Registration for an event provides not only live access to the event when it occurs live, but also gives you access to a recording of the conference that you can view at a later time. So, if you can’t make the presentation at the scheduled time and date, you can register before the event and still have access to a recording of it.

Remember, his is a free conference, so you have nothing to lose by registering. You can only gain by taking part of this program.

This conference is only one of a variety of offerings the group has planned. There are free ones, like the PowerPoint conference, as well as some more complex, multi-session programs which require a fee. Check out the group’s calendar and see if there is something coming up that can further the goal of presenting accessible programming to your students.
If you’re interested in learning more about EASI and what all they have to offer, check out the official home page at:

(Note: Access Ability is not sponsored or affiliated by the organization discussed in the above post. The information is being offered on Access Ability merely as another resource to enhance further development of the DSS field.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Service animals versus therapy animals

I just read the New York Daily News article about a former Gay Games athlete pushing the issue of having what he alleges is a
therapy dog
on a nude beach. I recognize that a nude beach is a much different context from an institute of higher education, but thought it offered a good springboard for discussion.

In my last position, I was involved in a discussion with the head of Risk Management regarding the difference between service animals and therapy animals. Our college developed a specific policy regarding service animals, making sure to delineate the allowances for them versus therapy dogs.

I might add that I travel with a Seeing Eye dog, so I do have some qualified understanding about this area of discussion. At least I do for the scope of service animals. I had to do some research for the therapy animal part of the discussion.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act,
“Service Animal means any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including but not limited to guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders, providing minimal rescue or protection work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.”

It was interesting to find that there is no single, standard certifying authority for therapy animals. There were, in fact, several groups that I found during an internet search offering certification for therapy dog training. The criteria for certification seemed to vary by the group offering it, but all of the training seemed skimpish and minimal when compared to the intensive, specifically detailed work that I know Seeing Eye dogs are put through with professional dog trainers.

I also found an informative
web site
which offered the follwing description of the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs.
“Therapy dogs, on the other hand, perform their tasks by invitation. The owner of a therapy dog has no more "right" of access to a hospital, nursing home, or public place than any other able-bodied person with a pet. (Note that the "right" accrues to the person, in either case, not to the dog! This is a crucial distinction that many fail to make.)”
“most hospitals and some nursing homes require a lot of paperwork before a therapy dog sets foot in the facility--the same facility where any person with a disability has a clear right to enter with his or her service dog.”
An interesting aspect of this website is that it is hosted by a handler of a therapy dog. However, while it is being a therapy dog handler which allows the web site host to speak with authority, it is her position as a professor at the
College of Charleston
in South Carolina, and her offered virtual lecture on therapy dogs, which gives her some credibility on the matter.

The bottom line, and reason for this subject as a post is to pose the question, “What is your school’s policy on service animals and therapy animals?”

The matter may never get raise at your school, but if it ever does, being proactive is much better than reactive.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Accessible Computing Resources

Aside from thought provoking discussion topics like the previous post, I envision Access Ability to be a source of resources for DSS professionals. With this thought in mind, I offer the following resources dealing with accessible computing. Some of the resources are tutorials, one is a screen reader, another is a guide to accessible web sites, and the last one is a jackpot of access technology information. The best part about these are that they are all free. (Sorry for inconsistencies in the links. While some of the html I used worked at providing text links, others did not, hence the URL links.)


While some may argue over whether it is the blind rehabilitation agency or the college who is responsible for training students on how to use adaptive technology, two things are certain:
1, colleges and universities must supply some form of accessible computing;
2, competence in using computers empowers students with disabilities to be more successful.
Whether or not your school provides any training, free tutorials can help any student learn how to make adaptive technology work. The author of the “From The Keyboard” series has made his tutorials available for free download at his web site.
The tutorials offered on the website bary, but include several which are specifically written for using the Microsoft Windows operating system, the internet, and other pc applications, in particular, the Microsoft Office applications Word, Excel, and Outlook.

The downside to this website is that the tutorials will most likely not be updated in the future. As a result, they will become increasingly outdated as time marches on. The key thing is that they can give some fundamental skills to students who must use the applications with the keyboard instead of the mouse. If a student can get the basic operation of a program down, even if it is an older version, the odds are that the student will be able to move to a newer version of the application with the basic concepts in place.


Even though the DSS office may not be able to use this, there is a
free screen reader
available to individuals. Thunder is a free download from a UK company that also sells magnification and scanning applications for blind and visually computer users. I have not personally tried this product, but if it offers free access to blind computer users, the price is definitely right.


While the two previous links were targeted for assisting students who have visual disabilities, accessible websites deal with more than just that segment of the DSS service population. As more and more material is being presented on-line, colleges and universities need to ensure that all of their web offerings, not just the distance education classes , are accessible. The people responsible for much of a school’s web content are often web developers in the various departments, are often compartmentalized, and not necessarily linked to the school’s IT or Distance Ed department.

In my own experience, it was these department web designers that were reluctant to change and offered resistance to incorporating accessible features to the web pages they had already designed. The university where I served as a graduate assistant in the DSS office sent a contingent of interested folks to an accessibility seminar and learned about
and their Air U project, which my university later participated in.

I just learned about a useful book that would have been a handy tool to have back then and helped to communicate our message of accessability to these designers at my university.
Dive Into Accessibility is a downloadable zip file that is available in both html and pdf formats. Subtitled “30 days to a more accessible web site,” the book discusses the various people who can benefit from the incorporation of accessible web design, as well as outlining the step-by-step process of accomplishing the end goal. The book is written well in that it points out that there are a variety of different users who can benefit from accessible web sites, and they are not all visually impaired. It explores their various access needs and also provides the directions on how to implement the changes. The directions seem pretty user-friendly, which is saying a lot being that this review is coming from one who knows only very basic html code.

The file can be downloaded from the author's web site:


Finally, if you want to dive right into the world of those who do heavy accessible computing work, check out the
blog. ATHEN is the Access Technologist Higher Education Network, whose purpose, according to their site, is:

“to collect and disseminate best practices in access technology within and for the higher education environment as well as present a collective voice for the professional practice of access technology in higher education.”

ATHEN is a non-profit organization and deals with all varieties and models of accessible technology, trying to find what works best and share their information. I came across the group when I was conducting research into the production of e-texts for my students. This blog is definitely one to bookmark and check out regularly for the latest in accessible technology news. The old saying, “a wealth of resources,” may be clichĂ©, but it truly fits for the ATHEN blog.

In addition to the ATHEN site, I hope you’ve got Access Ability bookmarked. I will be diligently working to post the latest news and share useful resources for the advancement of the DSS profession. Stay tuned and check back regularly.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cutting on the rise among young people

For the first post here, aside from the introductory one below, I want to toss out some food for thought and, hopefully, create some discussion. Think about it, share it with your colleagues, then give your thoughts in the comments section.

According to an Aug. 6, 2006 article in the Houston Chronicle,
Cuttings are on the rise among young people.

The profile identified in the article as the “typical cutter” seems to parallel traditional college student demographics. (For non-Houstonians, the locales describe some diverse slices of social economic status.)

“There is no neat profile of a cutter. Typically they are younger, teens or 20-somethings, slightly more females than males. Their homes range from Katy to Clear Lake to Galveston, jobs from students to mall workers to mothers, personal issues from bulimia to rape to incurable sadness. Even their methods vary, from razors to crushed Coke cans to safety pins, hundreds of cuts daily to one every few months.”

Here’s the logical line of thinking I thought of when reading this article:
Being these are teens to 20-somethings, there would seem to be a high probability that most college campuses have some cutters in their student population. Self mutilation is a physical expression of some sort of psychological dysfunction. Being that this psychological problem would be addressed by a counselor or medical professional, this is, of course, covered as a psychological disability for DSS purposes.

And, here is the food for thought question:
Granted that a student who is a cutter would have to self disclose, and that the specific individual diagnosis will vary from case to case, what accommodations might be best implemented to address a student who cuts on him/herself?

If you find this blog post useful, interesting, or even if you think it is a complete off the mark indulgence, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

On a final note, if you think this blog is interesting and worthhwhile, please share it with your colleagues. There is a link below that will allow you to email this post. Or, just send them a link to the blog. It is an easy page to remember:

Thank you for your time and feedback.