Special Feature: Perspective of an ADA Coordinator and DS Director

The ADA Coordinators SIG has as one of our goals, to help the AHEAD membership gain a better understanding of what an ADA Coordinator does in comparison to a Disability Services Director.  Over the next few HUB issues, the SIG will be organizing articles discussing this topic.  As part of these articles, we are attempting to showcase folks from a variety of institution types, some holding joint ADA/DS Director roles, some separate roles, and others more nuanced without clearly defined role boundaries.

The first article, published in this issue, is from our colleagues at Ohio State University, an institution with a distinct position for an ADA Coordinator that is housed separately from the DS Director. They will speak to their experiences working with each other, but also to highlight differences between roles, challenges, opportunities, and insights. We welcome feedback on thoughts to incorporate into the series. Enjoy!

Perspectives of the Disability Services Office and the ADA Coordinator’s Office at The Ohio State University

Submitted by:

Lois Harris, Director, Office of Student Life Disability Services

L. Scott Lissner, ADA Coordinator & 504 Compliance Officer

At the Ohio State University (OSU), the roles of the university’s ADA Coordinator’s office and the Disability Services office are separate and housed in two distinct administrative areas.  Although distinct, our two offices work collaboratively together with the same goal in mind, assuring access for persons with disabilities on our campus. Student Life Disability Services coordinates academic accommodations and adjustments for students with disabilities.  Disability Services first operated as the Office of the Physically Impaired in 1974.   Since its inception, the population of students with disabilities has dramatically changed from largely students with obvious or more distinct disabilities to those who have more invisible disabilities.   Like many university campuses nationally, our population is largely comprised of students who have mental health conditions, ADHD/ADD and other non-apparent disabilities such as learning disabilities.

As can be expected on a large campus like OSU, there has been much growth in the numbers of students who register in Disability Services over the years.  Currently, approximately 3,000 students are registered for academic accommodations and services compared to 1,400 registered students in 2007.

The ADA Coordinator’s office coordinates university-wide disability policy, disability-related dispute resolution, and training including on workplace accommodations for faculty and staff, facilities, and visitor’s to campus as well as the Office of Student Life Disability Services.   

The Director’s View:

The relationship with the ADA Coordinator’s office and in particular, the ADA Coordinator, has always been a positive and collaborative one.  Due to the varying nature of disability-related concerns and issues, there are often opportunities for us to consult our ADA Coordinator.  There are also times we work jointly together with students or staff who are utilizing both offices (i.e. graduate student with a disability registered in Disability Services who receives academic accommodations and also workplace accommodations from the ADA Coordinator’s office).  Mutual respect is necessary so turfism is not a problem between our two offices.  Being open and available for consultation is another key aspect of our working relationship. Urgent matters often arise when collaborating to accommodate individuals with disabilities and it benefits all parties that we maintain open lines of communication. We often seek advice from the ADA Coordinator’s office regarding our own staff’s disabilities and how to best accommodate their needs.

The ADA Coordinator’s View:

My office and position as OSU’s full time ADA Coordinator & 504 Compliance Officer was created 17 years ago. When I arrived on campus Student Life Disability Services had been in place over thirty years, had generated several AHEAD Presidents, and had an excellent reputation.  Prior to coming to OSU I had worked at a small college in rural Virginia where I wore the hats of the Director of Disability Resources, the ADA Coordinator, and a few other student support roles.  My background, the scope of my charge, and the fact that my office (3.5 FTE, 2 graduate assistants, a Moritz Law Fellow, and assorted work-study students) is focused solely on disability policy and compliance is not typical, but I hope it suggests possibilities. I report on a split line to the university’s Chief Compliance Officer and the Provost and work closely with Integrated Disability Benefits in HR, Facilities, the CIO’s Office, and Student Life Disability Services.  In fact I “hotel” in each of their spaces a few hours a month.

I am sure for the current Director, Lois Harris, and her predecessors, my background in student disability resources and ability to understand their work at a granular level was both a blessing and a curse. I assume more often a blessing since we have a close working relationship that serves our students and institution well.  We meet on a regular basis to discuss, issues involving or affecting students, decide how to handle students who fall under multiple jurisdictions and to identify strategies for needed resources, and policy development…we even share management and funding of the university’s Digital Accessibility Center.  Our ongoing collaboration has made better use of campus resources, limited complaint forum shopping and shortened the timeframe for dispute resolution.  It affords me the opportunity to witness the effectiveness of policy and identify professional development and resource needs.  For our students, it provides for effective services in a variety of ways but has been particularly beneficial in addressing issues at internships and practica, study abroad, and student employment.