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Currently, 19 employees in DS coordinate services for over 2,000 students.

As the number of students who use Disability Services reaches a record high, the office will hire five new employees this semester in an attempt to decrease wait times for student accommodations.

These services include “exam accommodations, graduate proctor requests, unique accommodations for students, e-text, note-taking, learning specialist sessions, CART, captioning, housing, and other accommodations.”

Currently, 19 employees in DS coordinate services for over 2,000 students. The office has gradually increased its staff in recent years, hiring one new coordinator last year, and plans to distribute the new staff appropriately in order to relieve the buildup of student requests and paperwork, which can result in long wait times for accommodations. In the past, staffing increases have been funded by increases in student health fees.

Cindy Lin

“We know the different stages that student need to go through as they work with the DS office, so when we’re looking at where those potential bottlenecks would be, we can try to staff appropriately,” Associate Vice President and Medical Director Melanie Bernitz said. “But in truth, it’s happening at all levels.”

The number of students who use DS has increased by 70 percent since 2010. In the past year alone, the number of students registered for services jumped 17.5 percent from 1,758 to 2,066. And in the past seven years, DS has seen a fourfold increase in the number of services provided to those students, growing from 4,701 in 2010 to 18,386 in 2017.

There has been a consistent expansion annually in the number of students who use DS nationwide, which experts have attributed to more awareness on campus and a decreasing stigma associated with disability.

“I think it’s so multifactorial—we certainly try to promote all of our sources, so I believe there’s an increased awareness, along with the many other reasons that students are registering for services,” Bernitz said.

Students have characterized DS as slow and bureaucratic at times, but ultimately helpful.

“I mentioned [my sciatica] to ODS [DS’s former title] and due to its review process, it would take me two to three weeks just to get my paperwork reviewed. Plus I’d have to go to a doctor to get a note,” Moth Dust Edrei, GS ’21, said. “I am very grateful we have ODS, and I’m very grateful that the employees of ODS work very hard to give us as many accommodations as possible. The bureaucracy just gets in the way.”

kate.huangpu@columbiaspectator.com | @columbiaspec

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