With staff numbers down, students who use the Student Accessibility Center have been frustrated with slow communication and canceled meetings.
With Low Staffing Students Who Use the Student Accessibility Center Become Frustrated
When sophomore Lilly Allan, a psychology and sculpture double major, sought academic accommodations for their recently diagnosed ADHD, Loyola’s Student Accessibility Center (SAC) scheduled a meeting for the first week of the fall semester. On Sept. 7, when Allan expected to discuss their accommodations, the SAC canceled and rescheduled the meeting for Sept. 12.
A second same-day cancellation saw the meeting moved to Sept. 20, several weeks after the one week deadline many professors use for notifying them of accommodations, according to Allan. As a result, Allan has not been able to use their academic accommodations this semester. They’ve had to work harder to stay on track, requiring outside help to keep up with their obligations.
This pattern of miscommunication is familiar to some other students who use the SAC for extended testing time, lengthened deadlines and housing exemptions. The students interviewed say the process of applying for accommodations can vary from a quick transfer of high school Individualized Education Plans to a back-and-forth between doctors and SAC staff.
There were only two employees in the department by Nov. 22, according to SAC Administrative Assistant Eric Perry. The office only had the capacity to process student requests and could not give a formal interview to The Phoenix, Perry said.
However, the rest of this semester could see a dramatic improvement in the quality of service from the SAC.
In a statement to The Phoenix, Andy Wilson, associate vice president of Student Success, said on behalf of Director of Learning and Student Success Betsi Burns that the university is adding staff and adjusting existing roles to better serve a growing number of students seeking accommodations. Wilson said former staff members left for various unspecified reasons. A new testing coordinator and two accessibility specialists are starting after Thanksgiving break, with several more positions planned to be filled, according to Wilson.
“Once these positions are filled, it will further increase the department’s capacity to meet with and support our students needing accommodations,” Wilson wrote. “We expect that these new positions and having the department fully staffed will enhance our services in the short and long term.”
With new staff coming in, the SAC has made more appointment times available to students through Accommodate, their application portal.
Before requesting testing accommodations this semester for their ADHD, Allan navigated the SAC application process to receive a housing and meal plan exemption. Allan spent three months sending documents to the SAC before asking their doctor to send an entire patient file, as the documents being sent to the SAC were rejected. Their first meeting with the SAC lasted five minutes, leaving Allan feeling that their time spent sending documents was wasted.
“They would be like, ‘We need something else,’ but they wouldn’t really tell me what else they needed,” Allan said.
Amid repeatedly rescheduled meetings, Allan said the accessibility specialist working with them left the SAC and Loyola two weeks into the semester.
Senior Audrey Brown said she has used extended testing time and the SAC Test Room since her first year. In 2019, prior to classes starting, Brown transferred her accommodations from high school to the SAC, met with a staff member and was assigned an accessibility specialist to review her needs.
When the accessibility specialist left employment at Loyola, Brown said she wasn’t assigned a new accessibility specialist. Instead, her questions were answered through the SAC email.
“I just was given a different person to talk to each time,” she said. Brown said she wasn’t given a reason for the change.
Wilson said the department has been recently recovering from a lack of staff members and has plans to welcome more accessibility specialists onboard.
“We have had some staff working in SAC who have departed the university for a variety of reasons,” Wilson wrote. He said the department will be better able to handle student accommodations once all positions are filled.
Students have previously laid out concerns over the SAC’s services, The Phoenix previously reported.
Brown believes her experience would be greatly improved by better communication from the SAC. She said check-in emails throughout the semester could give students the opportunity to adjust accommodations as circumstances change.
Wilson asks students with any further questions to contact the SAC.
Allan doesn’t blame the SAC for the issues they’ve experienced. They said face-to-face meetings were much easier than talking through email, but these meetings have also been limited by staff numbers.
“I feel like this world isn’t made for myself and other people with disabilities,” Allan said. “We should be presented with the same opportunities as our peers.”