Legislation urges in-state colleges to improve accessibility

Two bills are currently being reviewed by committees in the Washington State Senate and House of Representatives propose to make it easier for college students to apply for disabilities services and streamline the transfer of services from a previous school.
SBA president, Ashley Cowan and SCCs Dean of Students Kim Thompson testified in Olympia at the Senate committee of higher education on January 28, along with students and staff from other schools, and all offered their input on what the bill means to them and what they believe the bill intends to do.
“When I was 15 I dropped out of High school, and due to unstable housing – which was a result of my disability – I’ve attended three separate community colleges and the impact of the easier transfer of accommodations is a very serious reality for me,” said Cowan during her testimonial. “I will be transferring again next year to a four-year institution – the struggle of ensuring my accommodations will transfer is on my mind.”
Since being proposed, the two bills, 6466 and 2825 have been revised.
6466 mainly serves to expedite the application process, eliminate redundant paperwork, improve interchangeability of accommodations applications, and have greater outreach for students and helping them transfer.
2825 is primarily concerned with forming a disabilities work group that will research disabled student needs and develop recommendations on how to improve their higher education experience.
Paul Bell, Bellevue College’s former Vice President of Student Affairs, originally came up with the concept of the bill last November during a conversation with State Senator Cyrus Habib.
“We were talking about what some barriers are to the completion of 4 year degrees and I mentioned how students were not getting their services in a timely manner as they transitioned to their next school,” Bell said.
In January, the Washington Student Association (WSA) reached out to Bell because his ideas had struck a chord with Habib. Using Bell’s notes, two students in the WSA worked actively with Senator Habib’s office and a staffer from the senate higher education community to get legislation for 6466 drafted.
As a result of the testimonials given two weeks ago, the bills have been edited down from five pages to just under two – the main concerns having been addressed and removed from the original texts.
“In the initial bill, they wanted a uniform form that all in-state students with disabilities would use as they applied to make sure their accommodations transferred over,” Bell said. “That raised red flags from several stakeholders, including students.”
Thompson, who worked as a disabilities support supervisor prior to becoming dean, raised one of those flags and testified that finding accommodations for students with disabilities must be assessed on a case-by-case basis: having all schools fit within the same box means that less individual student’s needs would be served.
“I’ve listened to students and what they were having problems with was the timeliness of receiving service,” Thompson said. “Some students had to wait 4 weeks for accommodations – at some schools there is only one specialist for 300 students.”
According to Bell, even though there was a lot of wrestling to make the bill represent the vision that Habib originally put forth, everyone that was a part of the conversation wanted to support students.
“It seems like a simple idea, but when you start talking about it in simplistic terms you start to lose what you’re trying to talk about,” Bell said. “Trying to get individualized services in a timely manner when students don’t always self-identify right away.”

_Randy Hatfield

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