When Pietrina Probst, Elgin Community College’s coordinator of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and student disabilities services, discussed the idea of Disability Awareness Month, ECC students didn’t hesitate. Probst, the advisor of ADAPT—a student club that advocates for disability awareness—said students were eager to get plans in motion.
“The students wanted to do it immediately because they wanted to raise awareness about students with disabilities before they graduated and left ECC,” she said. “I’m all for empowering students. I want to make their voices heard.”
While there is great value in educating the public about students with disabilities, Probst emphasized the importance of students using the Office of Disability Services. Some students fear being stigmatized, while others believe they can do it on their own. If they are fortunate, a professor or tutor may be able to identify an issue and refer the students to Probst.
“We hope this month raised awareness for students who need these services and helped them understand that this office exists for them,” she said.
Probst offered insights on how the college community can support students with disabilities.
It’s all about using the right word.
Probst said one common stigma society places of people with disabilities is that they’re intellectually “slow.” She said that’s not the case.
“They learn in a different way,” she said. “They receive accommodations to support them, give them an equal opportunity to learn, and provide them with access to the classroom and campus activities.”
Making accommodations for people with disabilities is not “cheating.”
The Office of Disability Services coordinates accommodations to students with documented disabilities, including learning disabilities, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—which ensures that no beneficiary of the ADA encounters discrimination on the basis of one’s disability.
Common accommodations include recording class lectures to listen to later, using a sign language interpreter, or using the Testing Center for those who need extra time to take a test. She said these accommodations do not mean students with disabilities receive an unfair advantage.
“It’s not cheating. The accommodations level the playing field,” Probst said.
Put the person first, not the disability.
Have you ever told someone you have an autistic or a handicapped friend? Probst would like you to change how you speak.
Instead, you should put the person first by telling people you have a friend who has autism or has a disability. Better yet, you don’t have to mention the disability at all, as it manages to focus the attention away from the person, said Probst.
“Person-first language eliminates the appearance that a person is broken or that there is something wrong with them,” she adds.
If you know a student who has a disability, Probst recommends you refer him or her to the Office of Disability Services in Building B, Room B125, to schedule an appointment. For more information, you can contact Probst at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 7417.