Office of Disability Services Focuses on Finding Best Support Possible
by Jennifer Spencer
The Office of Disability Services (ODS) works to support students and ensure equal educational access for all members of the Fordham community. ODS staff encourages incoming students with learning or other disabilities to take the initiative to learn about resources available to help them excel at Fordham.
Carolyn Mooney, ODS director, said that becoming acquainted with the office and the process of receiving support can help incoming students thrive.
While laws at the high school level require schools to identify students with disabilities, students at the university level must identify themselves to the ODS so that they can be assessed for support.
Mooney said this model requires students and their families to make a transition in their thinking.
"We welcome parents to come with their son or daughter for an initial intake meeting, but we do need to meet with each student so they know who we are, feel comfortable, and feel we're developing a plan that meets their needs," she said.
ODS staff meet with every single student who identifies as having a disability. Fordham can work to arrange accommodations, such as note-taking services, additional test-taking time, or books in alternate formats, for students with documented disabilities.
Mooney said that while many students assume their accommodations at the university level will be exactly the same as what they experienced in high school, her team invests the time and effort of personal meetings to ensure that students aren't just receiving the support they have had, but the support that will actually serve them best.
"A lot of students come to me with a plan that's not really meeting their needs. I like to meet with them and actually hear what's challenging them with regard to academics, rather than just read about them in a stack of forms," Mooney said.
"It's more of a conversation between us and the student. Some accommodations will just be carried over, but we are trying to also see if there is anything else we can do that they weren't aware of that is available to them," she said.
Mooney said that it's important that students approach ODS as early as possible after being accepted to Fordham. While her office can provide advocacy, counseling, coaching, and support, none of that is possible until students schedule an appointment to request it.
Fordham's support extends beyond arranging accommodations to provide equal educational access to all students. ODS offers a program called Transition Year, a three-part program that includes individual coaching with ODS staff, group activities and courses, and peer mentoring.
Group events, such as popular sessions on setting goals and the dangers of procrastination, not only educate students but introduce them to some of their peers who are also receiving services through ODS. Mooney said that support network is a vital part of helping students reduce any social stigma they may feel about having a disability.
"There is still a hesitancy by students to identify to each other that they use accommodations. You can't prevent a learning disability, but you can work with it. You can treat your symptoms, and don't need to hide it," she said.
The peer-mentoring aspect of Transition Year is a key part of helping students become comfortable advocating for themselves and talking about their disability. Mooney said students provide support and guidance for one another, and encourage each other to talk to faculty about the accommodations they need.
Visit the Office of Disability Services website.