Ball State students share thoughts on Disability Awareness Month, campus accessibility

<p>Junior economics major Cheyenne Durbin tips off a basketball in the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center Jan. 9, 2019. The Office of Disability Services sponsors a wheelchair basketball tournament each Disability Awareness Month. <strong>Ball State University Disability Services, Photo Courtesy</strong></p>

Junior economics major Cheyenne Durbin tips off a basketball in the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center Jan. 9, 2019. The Office of Disability Services sponsors a wheelchair basketball tournament each Disability Awareness Month. Ball State University Disability Services, Photo Courtesy

Contact the Office of Disability Services

Disability Services: or (765) 285-5293

Disability Services provides students with disability accommodations for their classes. Disability Services also has a faculty mentorship program that will pair students with faculty for their first semester at Ball State to guide them through college.

Alliance for Disability Awareness: or on Instagram @ballstateada

The Alliance for Disability Awareness is a student organization that meets monthly and is dedicated to disability education and awareness. ADA plans various events for people to learn more about disabilities.

Accessible Technology (ACT) Lab: or (765) 285-8275

The ACT Lab provides a variety of resources for students with visual, hearing or physical disabilities to access computers and course materials. 

Source: Office of Disability Services and Information Technology

How to be a good ally for people with disabilities

Being a good ally means learning and asking questions about causes you believe in. Being a good ally is not about speaking for a population, but elevating their voices. Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. 

Source: James Marconi, assistant director of disability services

When senior finance major Savannah Bassett began school at Ball State, she — like many other students — found some differences between high school and college. However, for Bassett, the reasoning was different from the norm.

“When I came to Ball State, I felt like I had more opportunity to do everything because I felt that I wasn’t discriminated against,” Bassett said. “I didn’t feel embarrassed to say that I had a hearing disability.”

Bassett has partial hearing loss and requires extra services to help her with school work, which the Office of Disability Services provides her. She has had notetakers help her in case she missed something a professor said in class, receives extra time on tests because of testing anxiety and receives closed captioning for her lecture videos and Zoom calls.

Bassett is living in Fort Wayne this semester, and though she is not on campus, she is still receiving her preferred communication through email and said this has been her best semester of accommodations.

“Everybody is in constant communication with me,” she said. “I even had someone ask me for my preferred method of communication. I’ve never had that before.” 

When Bassett comes to campus, she said, she struggles to understand people while they are wearing masks because she used to always lip read what they said. However, the Office of Disability Services still found an accommodation for her.

Bassett said the Office of Disability Services staff showed her face shields and masks with a clear panel and demonstrated what class would look like with each of these so she could lip read and understand what her professors were saying.

“Thankfully, COVID has not been super crazy or ridiculous,” she said. “It’s just a matter of allowing a little bit more flexibility.”

Like Bassett, Rebecca Lawrence, a graduate student getting her certificate for disabilities in a post secondary setting, has also appreciated the Office of Disability Services’ accommodations. As an intern at the Accessible Technology Lab, Lawrence said college has also taught her how to be her own advocate.

“It’s kind of that you go straight from being structured to being independent,” Lawrence said. “I think that’s one of the biggest differences.”

Lawrence said she knows a lot of people who received less services in high school and struggled, but are now able to receive more and perform better in school.

For Lawrence, the coronavirus pandemic has not drastically affected her courses because her graduate classes were already online, but she has heard different reactions about how school has been affected for other students with disabilities.

She said some students find school easier because all of their PowerPoint presentations and course information are in one place and easily accessible. However, with everything online, there isn’t as much structure and social interaction as before.

“They’re struggling with not being able to socialize as easily, which is a big thing, especially if you have been socializing and have a support group, and then, all of a sudden, your support group is gone,” Lawrence said.

Bassett also said it has been difficult to not socialize as much with people because of the pandemic. She is the president of Ball State’s Alliance for Disability Awareness (ADA) and said it has been difficult to keep people interested because of the online format.

Nick Baumgartner, manager of accessible technology, unified technology support and teaching faculty for the department of special education, has to check each of the websites students use for their textbooks and make sure they are accessible for students with disabilities. He said that he is constantly talking to companies about improving accessibility.

“I’m on the phone with [companies] all the time,” Baumgartner said. “[They ask], ‘What does accessibility mean? Is accessibility something that is just checking a box, or is a legal protection or is it something that is a functional priority for the platform to make it the most usable possible?’”

Baumgartner said Ball State takes the last approach and makes sure everything the university buys works for students and makes usability as easy for them as possible.

He also said Ball State provides disability services throughout campus rather than in one spot, which makes it different from other universities.

“The place for people with disabilities isn’t in the disability office — it’s wherever their non-disabled peers are receiving the same services,” Baumgartner said. “Ball State does an excellent job of mainstreaming and distributing disability services.”

March is National Disability Awareness Month, a time Bassett feels not many people know about and celebrate.

“At ADA, we celebrate Disability Awareness Month, which nobody knows about unless you’re hanging out with us,” Bassett said. “Let’s show people that it’s OK to have a disability, and let’s celebrate that and the beauty of it.”

Baumgartner also feels that the importance of Disability Awareness Month is misunderstood and wants people to understand what life with disabilities is like every day. He said the Bureau of Labor Statistics states people with disabilities made up about 18 percent of the population in 2020, but only about 62 percent of those were employed.

“I want Disability Awareness Month to be treated as seriously as Black History Month or as Pride Month,” Baumgartner said. 

For the Office of Disability Services, accessibility has been a long standing tradition, according to its mission statement. With the empowerment from the university and the services provided, students with disabilities are given the opportunity to meet their full potential and given the confidence they need for life after college.

Contact Maya Wilkins with comments at or on Twitter @mayawilkinss.


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