FM students with disabilities breaking barriers

By Robin DeVito
For The Leader-Herald
People with Disabilities have historically faced challenges and barriers that have resulted in significantly lower levels of educational attainment and relatedly, higher levels of poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity.
Despite the dismal numbers being reported by the National Disability Institute that only 13% of adults with disabilities are college graduates compared with 33% of their non-disabled counterparts, FM students with disabilities are seeing great graduation success rates. In fact, of the 322 students that graduated during the 2020-2021 academic year, 67 were registered with Accessibility Services. In other words, more than 1 in 5 students who graduated last year, were students who had disclosed and requested services for having a disability.
Currently 10% of FM’s Fall 2021 students are registered as having a disability, although this number will likely double as the semester progresses and students learn about the supports available to help them succeed.
This is in line with SUNY and national reports that approx. 19% of undergraduates in college report having a disability. According to SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, “Students with disabilities face significant challenges and are more likely to drop out of college than those without disabilities, and cite a lack of accommodations and support services as their top reason”.
So this begs the question, why have students with disabilities at FM graduated at rates equal or even exceeding that of their non-disabled peers? Unlike K-12 programs, college students with disabilities must meet the same academic standards as their peers so ‘grade inflation’ is not the reason.
Further, FMCC is one of 64 SUNY schools and their courses must meet SUNY standards for credit transfer. The answer to the question comes from Chancellor Malatras statement and a number of supporting studies. In summary, students with disabilities require not only quality services and adaptive technology to accommodate their needs, but also the removal of physical, emotional, and social barriers to an inclusive learning environment. Improving services for Students with Disabilities requires a campus wide commitment that ensures students with disabilities receive the same opportunities as their peers.
At FMCC, students are able to develop relationships with their professors that negate preconceived ideas of disability. In addition to FM’s Office of Accessibility which provides services such as extra time for tests, pens and software to convert text to speech, and other individualized accommodations, there are a number of additional supports for students with disabilities.
The TRIO/QUEST grant offers individualized tutoring and academic advising to students with disabilities. FM students can also apply for mentoring/coaching with specific course tutors thru Tutortrac.
FM has developed partnerships with community providers such as personal counseling services with St. Mary’s hospital or direct support services through Lexington’s Transition Program.
The new sensory room offers a therapeutic space for those who need to place to focus and calm themselves and a disabilities awareness club, ABLE, encourages self-advocacy skills. Most importantly, FM has embraced the SUNY view that disability is part of the diverse culture that is to be fostered and celebrated.

This article was written by Robin DeVito, Coordinator of Accessibility Services and Alternate Testing at FMCC.

By Paul Wager

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