Access for All Aggies
Department of Disability Resources Experiences Significant Growth in Demand as More Aggies Seek Assistance
ON COURSE FOR SUCCESS - Kaki Kaki ’20 ’22 is pursuing a master’s degree in aerospace engineering after already earning a bachelor’s degree in the same subject from Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering. He credits the Department of Disability Resources, part of the Division of Student Affairs, as a critical resource for his academic success, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. Photos by Garrett Goad, Division of Student Affairs.
By Dorian Martin '06
A car accident in 2012 left Kaki Kaki ’20 ’22 paralyzed from the torso down and using a wheelchair. Although some might think that this would alter his professional dreams, Kaki is right on course to become a space systems engineer after graduation.
The San Antonio native, who is a first-generation Palestinian American , is pursuing a master’s degree in aerospace engineering after already earning a bachelor’s degree in the same subject from Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering. Kaki already has lined up a job at Northrop Grumman facility in Azusa, CA, where he’ll design satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
He credits the Department of Disability Resources, part of the Division of Student Affairs, as a critical resource for his academic success, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student.
Kaki is not alone in tapping into these services. A total 2,790 students with disabilities registered in Fall 2021 to receive support from the department, which is more than a threefold increase from 2010’s registrations. “The number of students who register with us grows every year,” said Kristie Orr, director. “It looks like this year we will have a little bit more growth than expected due to the record number of freshmen.”
This growth is challenging the department’s capacity. To ensure that appropriate support is available to meet the diverse needs of Aggies with special needs, the department is working with the Texas A&M Foundation to create a $2 million endowment. These funds would support expansion of facilities such as the testing center and provide critical technology to accommodate students.
INCREASING ACCESSIBILITY - A total 2,790 students with disabilities registered in Fall 2021 to receive support from the department, which is more than a threefold increase from 2010’s registrations.
Removing Campus Barriers
Centrally located in the new Student Services Building that opened in 2020, Disability Resources strives to foster a campus community in which disabled students are equal members. Part of the department’s charge focuses on the removal of barriers that these Aggies may face during their college experience.
While some of the department’s clients are students like Kaki whose disability can be seen or easily identified, many Aggies who use these services have invisible disabilities. The most predominant diagnosis is ADHD. Additionally, students with mental health issues, learning disabilities, and medical conditions such as seizures and diabetes also tap the department’s services.
The Disability Resources staff offers sign language interpreters, transcription services, and technology that assists students with completing tasks they would not otherwise be able to do. This includes assistive technology assessment, accessible computer workstations, adaptive software and equipment, alternative-format materials, audio books, and equipment loans. “When they leave Texas A&M, we want students to be able to use the same computer software, hardware and programs in the working world so they can be successful at work,” Orr said.
The department also is charged with assisting students who experience any disability-related issues on campus and educational outreach to students, faculty and administrators. It also works with Texas A&M’s Facility Services, Residence Life, and Transportation Services to ensure that campus buildings, residence halls, parking lots and other university properties are physically accessible for students with disabilities.
ACCESSIBLE RESOURCES - The Disability Resources staff offers sign language interpreters, transcription services, and technology that assists students with completing tasks they would not otherwise be able to do. This includes assistive technology assessment, accessible computer workstations, adaptive software and equipment, alternative-format materials, audio books, and equipment loans.
A Testing Center in Demand
To access services, students first must self-identify with the department. Each Aggie then works with an access coordinator to develop an individualized plan that identifies appropriate accommodations based on documented needs, previous accommodations, and the student’s functional limitations. “When I first transferred to Texas A&M, one of the first things I did was go over to the Department of Disability Resources and they talked to me about what I might need,” Kaki said. “One of the things they mentioned was the testing center.”
The testing center is one of the department’s most-used resources, and one that is being stretched to capacity. By mid-October, the center fielded 11,194 total alternative testing requests during the fall semester. Over 4,700 classes have testing accommodations.
Initially designed to serve 100 students at a time, the center already is experiencing greater demand from Aggies who need appropriate accommodations when taking exams. These accommodations can include a testing assistant who serves as a reader or scribe, reduced-distraction environment, a Braille or e-text formatted exam, large print, closed-caption televisions, specialized computer hardware, or software programs that read exams to students.
The center has four group testing rooms and 15 private exam rooms, all of which have adjustable tables and are wheelchair accessible. Two group rooms have 25 seats apiece. The other two group testing areas have a 15-person capacity; one of these rooms is primarily used for computer-based testing. The individual exam rooms, which offer a variety of lighting options, are available for students who utilize specialized software or hardware, assistance from a testing assistant, or need a private room. In addition to the increased demand by disabled Aggies, the testing center’s staff is seeing a growing need for technology as faculty incorporate more online assessments. The growth in demand for the testing center’s services also taxes the center’s data management system, which is used to track each student’s accommodations.
Acing the Test
During his academic career, Kaki has spent many hours in the testing center, where he has utilized two specific accommodations: a scribe and extra time. “Whenever you do your exam, you have to write it with pen and paper. I can’t grab that pen so I don’t know how I could have done it (without a scribe),” he said. “And with engineering, there’s a lot of mapping. Most of the people who do the scribing don’t really know the math, so I need extra time because I need to explain to them what they need to write as I take the exam.”
The testing center’s services are vital for students like Kaki to be academically successful. “There are so many things that you need to assist you besides the wheelchair,” he said. “I think the testing center is one of those things that people tend to overlook.”
Support Aggies through the Department of Disability Resources. http://give.am/DisabilityResourcesFund
Contact Assistant Director of Development Sarah Hamilton ’22 at email@example.com or 979-458-1689.