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May 28, 2004


SPRINGFIELD - "Students with disabilities are being encouraged now, more than ever, to continue their education and pursue career goals." That's the conclusion of a comprehensive look at efforts of colleges and universities to meet the needs of disabled students on campuses across Illinois. However, the report also sounds a warning that along with the recognition of higher education's responsibility to disabled students "comes the growing concern about the funding levels necessary to provide and sustain services for students with disabilities."

The focus on helping students with disabilities is featured in the annual Underrepresented Groups Report, which the Illinois Board of Higher Education will discuss at its June 8 meeting at Richland Community College in Decatur.

In addition to this year's in-depth examination of services for students with disabilities, the Underrepresented Groups Report found some positive trends in enrollment of minority students. The report notes that:

  • African American enrollments grew 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2003 and 22.6 percent since 1993, while Latino enrollments increased 7 percent in the past year and 70 percent for past decade.
  • Degrees awarded to African American students were up 10.5 percent over the previous year and nearly 50 percent for the decade. Trends in degrees granted to Latino students were even more impressive - close to 12 percent in 2003 and 109 percent since 1993.

Besides tracking enrollment and degree trends, the Underrepresented Groups Report each year zeroes in on a particular focus topic - this year an examination of services for students with disabilities. Those services, as reported by public community colleges and universities, are extensive. Accommodations for students with disabilities vary from campus to campus and case by case.

For example, the Disability Support Services office at Western Illinois University provides such services as audio-taped texts, interpreter services, adaptive equipment and software, voice-activated software. At Northern Illinois University, the Center for Access-Ability Resources offers students with disabilities priority registration, exam accommodations, sighted guides, route training, adapted print materials, and serves as a liaison with faculty and counselors.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale operates a wheelchair repair service that has generated enough revenue to cover its expenses, and the university also has a text-conversion service free to students and on a fee-for-service basis for residents of the community. NIU developed a volunteer reader program to turn materials around in a more timely fashion.

Community colleges use an Individual Education Program for each student with disabilities to determine what accommodations are needed to ensure students have complete access to a full academic experience at college. Academic services include modifications in course policy or procedures (such as extended time to complete exams), sign-language interpreters, access to alternative media (such as Braille, large print, and audio equipment), and note-takers or taping of lectures.

Surveys of students generally find widespread satisfaction with services offered by institutions. At WIU, 92 percent of students taking a customer-satisfaction survey indicated they would recommend the institution to other students with disabilities, and 86 percent rated interpreting services at NIU good to excellent. Nine in ten respondents said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with academic aid from the Disability Support Services at SIU-Edwardsville.

The report also details measures universities and colleges have undertaken to reach out to high school students to inform them of what disability services are available on campuses and to ease the transition to college.

Finally, the report examines the question of whether institutions promote a supportive campus climate for students with disabilities. "Special events, support organizations, and collaboration between institutional departments all play a role in creating a climate of accessibility," the report notes. "Disability Awareness events, of one type or another, are prominent on Illinois higher education campuses. These events are designed to provide all members of the campus community with information about disabilities; institutional services available to assist students and staff with disabilities; and to showcase the 'ability' in disability."

In other matters, the Board will act on several new programs, including an honors college and a Doctor of Education in Education Leadership at Chicago State University and a new associate of arts in science education.


Don Sevener



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