Despite an “exponential” increase in the number of students using resources for disabilities, university administration is keeping up with the demand.
The Student Accessibility Center (SAC) — which provides on-campus support and accommodations for students with disabilities — saw a 25 percent increase in the number of students that use accommodations from fall 2018 to fall 2019, according to Director of Learning and Student Success Betsi Burns.
Accommodations cover a wide range of needs and include getting extra time on tests, audio note-taking and attendance or deadline flexibility, according to the SAC website.
The increase fits national trends that show more students with disabilities are attending higher education, according to Katie Tappel, the associate director of SAC.
Loyola students can apply for specific accommodations or can apply with a specific disability or mental health issue and work with the SAC office to get the accommodations that fit them best, according to Tappel.
There’s also been an increase in students applying for accommodations with mental health issues — including anxiety and depression — at Loyola, according to Tappel. In 2014, the top two categories of applicants had learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), while in 2018 the top categories the SAC serviced were mental health and chronic medical conditions, Burns said.
In order to manage the increase in demand, the SAC started using Accommodate — an automated digital system that made the application process faster, according to Burns.
The SAC also hired two new staff members in spring 2019 to help with caseloads and testing accommodations, she said. The SAC currently has five staff members, two executives and three specialists, and they’re looking to fill the last vacant executive position, Burns said.
SAC specialists meet with students to review documentation, support students and coordinate the testing rooms, Tappell said. The SAC hired more specialists after the Student Academic Services Department — the department containing the SAC — restructured to allow for more specialists, Tappell said.
Loyola senior Alexandra Alamo said the online program is a “double-edged” sword because its easy but disconnects students from staff.
“On one end, it provides students with the autonomy and responsibility of requesting on their time regardless of where they physically are,” the psychology said. “On the other, it can be a confusing process to go through a website instead of asking a person directly.”
Burns said, if offered, any department at Loyola would take more resources — like extra funding or staff — but that the SAC doesn’t need anything else to keep up with the increased demand.
“If you ask anyone if they need more resources they’d always say yes,” Burns said. “We want to do what we need to do, but also be fiscally responsible with students’ tuition dollars.”
The most frequently provided accomodation is a distraction-reduced environment for testing, coordinated by SAC staff, according to Burns.
Coordination is more than just proctoring tests, according to Tappell. Specialists help signing up students and working with faculty to get and return tests and exams, Tappell said.
The SAC has also seen an increase in testing accommodations with a 54 percent increase from fall 2018 to fall 2019. During the fall 2019 semester, the SAC coordinated 2,375 exams, with an additional 1,183 during finals week.
To handle the increase in test-taking accommodations, the SAC often uses nearly every available room in Sullivan Center, including staff offices. The SAC also asks Student Academic Services, Division of Student Development and other campus partners to assist in coordinating the exams, Tappel said.
First-year biology major Stephanie Miller said she gets double-time on her tests and said she hasn’t had any issues scheduling exams with the SAC. Even when she had missed the sign-up deadline, she said they were able to adjust to ensure she could take her exam on time.
“[It’s] not usually [difficult],” the 19-year-old said. “Even finals [aren’t] hard to schedule as long as you’re on top of it.”
A student who The Phoenix isn’t naming gets multiple testing accommodations, including time-and-a-half for exams, said Loyola’s SAC works around her tight schedule.
“My schedule is back-to-back [classes] Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so it becomes a problem with testing,” she said.
The student said she’s used accommodations throughout high school but had issues using them during standardized tests. She said she hasn’t experienced those same barriers at Loyola.
Burns said the SAC was “lucky” to get the new hires so they can continue to help students.