Campus News Investigations: Disabled students lack resources

By Juan Calvillo, Steven Adamo, Alma Lizarraga, Luis Castilla

East Los Angeles College departments and services have to request Diversabilities Support Program and Services for training on how to better serve disabled students, but some services have not received training since the onset of the pandemic.
ELAC has 825 disabled students as of Nov. 2021. This includes students with the following disabilities:
Acquired Brain Injury
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Autism Spectrum
Developmentally Delayed Learner
Hearing Impaired
Learning Disabled
Mobility Impaired
Other Disability
Psychological Disability
Visually Impaired
This population of students is assisted in both scholastic and accessibility needs by the DSPS. Disabled students have access to the Learning Assistance Center, the Reading and Writing Center, the Math Lab and the Math tutoring center..
William Boyer, director of communications at the Los Angeles Community College District, said students are provided with materials when they are requested.
He said training to assist DSPS students is handled at a local college level.
Boyer said there is also district-wide training under the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This office oversees the various DSPS departments across the nine community colleges in the LACCD.
He said the LACCD is not aware of any constraints to helping students at this time and that there were certain specifics that would need addressing if the needs demanded an increase.
“Certainly an expansion of services, if needed, would require more funding and staffing,” Boyer said.
Maria Acosta, Assistant Director for the Reading and Writing Center, said the center helps students looking for assistance and is open to everyone. She said the last time the center received training workshops for tutors was in 2019.
She said it has been difficult to coordinate with DSPS since the beginning of and because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acosta said it would be good to have some sort of training and that Zoom training could be an option as well and would be appreciated.
She said the tutors and staff can not assess whether a student is a disabled student or not. She said the only way they know is when a disabled student discloses they are disabled.
The center is about “mak(ing) sure our students are comfortable,” Acosta said.
“We asked for the training based on what we’ve seen our tutors needing,” Amanda Ryan-Romo, Learning Center director said.
Ryan-Romo said tutors at the Learning Center will receive training in early June, though it is unclear exactly what the training will entail.
She said there is currently no formal system in place between the DSPS and the Learning Center.
“We don’t necessarily know that DSPS students are coming in,” Ryan-Romo said.
Prior to COVID-19, Ryan-Romo said tutors working out of the Learning Center had more space and were open longer hours.
When the campus shut down in March 2020, the Learning Center tutored Math and English virtually.
Tutors from DSPS were also working directly with students online.
“Since coming back, there hasn’t been any sort of reconnection again,” Ryan-Romo said.
DSPS at ELAC helps students with their classes and offers a variety of other services.
Grace Hernandez, Dean of Student Services, said DSPS addresses all requests from students for support in classes.
She said DSPS does provide workshops on how to best work with DSPS students when asked.
“Departments such as English, Math and others call our office to provide them presentations. We do them throughout the year. All these events are highly encouraged,” Hernandez said.
She said ELAC holds Disability Awareness Day, or week, every October and that DSPS also participates in a Disability Summit within the nine colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District.
She said DSPS offers support in their department for English and Math courses.
When students need help in other courses the student meets with a counselor and if approved, the student will be accommodated by DSPS. Disabled students are asked to meet with a counselor every semester.
“Every student receives specific accommodations based on their disability and/or need. Some of the accommodations that are provided may be notetaking assistance, extended time on tests, specialized tutoring, adaptive equipment and other services,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said the DSPS is a resource like the Veterans Resource Center or the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services.
“In terms of us going from department to department, we don’t do that. We don’t have the staff to do that,” Hernandez said.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all for all the students,” Hernandez said.
“We really need to be proactive. We really need to engage in a conversation,” she said.
Late last summer, blind students in the LACCD sued the district under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was also included in the lawsuit filed, Disability Rights California, an organization started in 1978, said.
The suit was over a lack of scholastic resources blind students in the LACCD had access to while taking classes.
These included books and materials specific to blind students.
This case was won by the students not once, but twice at the appellate court level. The LACCD was planning to take the case to the Supreme Court but went into mediation with students in February of this year.
Disabled students have had issues at the East Los Angeles College campus for some time.
Campus News has covered these concerns since 2013 with a range of articles. These include campus and scholastic limitations for disabled students in general.
Disabled student Joanna Calderon, a former ELAC Campus News reporter, said issues still persist.
She said disabled-specific bathrooms are not all created equal. She said students in wheelchairs need larger bathrooms and, unfortunately, ELAC’s campus doesn’t have them in every bathroom on campus.
Calderon said during the pandemic it has been easier getting access to these bathrooms due to a smaller on-campus student population. She said this will change as students begin to return in the fall.

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