Data show large increase in students using disability services

Data presented to the state Board of Regents demonstrate an increasing number of students who identify as needing disability support.


Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen gives a presentation to the Iowa Board of Regents during a meeting at the Iowa State Alumni Center in Ames, Iowa, on Thursday, June 6, 2019. (Wyatt Dlouhy/The Daily Iowan)

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

After receiving requests to see more data on disability-support services, the state Board of Regents viewed data showing a dramatic increase in the number of students who self-identify as needing services or accommodations in the last three years.

A question the regents’ office has received is: Why do the regents not provide graduation and retention data for students who use disability-support services?

The reason is that students must show medical needs for the services as well as self-identify as needing the services, causing the data to be protected by FERPA and HIPPA laws, said Jason Pontius, the regents’ associate chief academic officer.

Therefore, the Office of Academic Support and Retention is unable to see if a student receives disability support, Pontius said. The University of Iowa is working on creating a computer algorithm to match graduation and retention data with disability-support services data without violating privacy laws, but the officials don’t currently have that data, he said.

According to the data the regents have, an increase in the number of students at the three regent universities using disability services has occurred over the past seven years. From 2016 to 2018, the number of students using the services increased from 2,570 to 3,853 students.

“This is good news in many ways because students are feeling comfortable coming and saying I’ve got an issue, I need to have help in some special way,” Pontius said.

While it’s good students use the support services, it creates an increased demand and a strain on the system, he said.

Over the past few years, the support services have also seen an increase in students seeking accommodations for health or psychological reasons.

Of all the accommodations offered, the other category is the third largest, meaning the existing categories don’t describe the service provided well enough, Pontius said. The directors of the UI Disability Services will meet to discuss how they can better align the categories of the services provided, he said.

During the September regent meeting, the director of disability-support offices for each university will give a report on the work they do and the services provided.

The University Counseling Service has partnered with Student Disability Services to have a counselor or therapist in the office for students, UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers said. The two offices intersect with each other in the needs of the students when it comes to accommodations and the psychological issues and factors they face, she said.

The addition of an embedded therapist in Disability Services would greatly help students academically and mentally, UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness President Kaydee Ecker said in an email to The Daily Iowan The inclusion of an embedded therapist is an effort the organization has worked on for a while, Ecker said.

“Not only do disabled students face challenges when it comes to access and accommodations in the classroom, but we also face the heavy emotional and psychological burden of navigating a world that often does not understand, respect, or support us,” Ecker said.

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