by Brittny Delgado.
Chaffey College student, Caitlin Robertson, 21, of Fontana, wears a blue baseball cap and matching blue jacket as she makes her way around the disabilities programs and services office at Chaffey Community College on crutches. She wears worn-out gray Converse, size 13 in men’s, because that’s what she feels most comfortable in. Her blue jeans are faded and loose, but she still manages to have a big smile on her face as she greets the student workers at the front desk. Roberston has nuerofibromatosis Type 1.
Nuerofibromatosis, is a genetic disorder that disturbs cell growth in the nervous system causing tumors to form in the nerve tissue. These tumors may develop anywhere in the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and nerves. It is usually diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood.
“It consists of spots all over my body, muscle weaknesses, and there are tumors that are not visible but I have them all over,” Robertson said.
To make sure nothing is irregular or abnormal she has an MRI brain scan every year. Her feet and head according to doctors are unusually large, and she suffers from learning disabilities.
For students like Robertson, the transition from high school to college can be rough and terrifying. Many students are used to the constant reassurance of parents and teachers looking over them to make sure they carry out their daily responsibilities.
Self advocacy is an important element in making sure students with disabilities succeed in college, according to The National Center for Learning Disabilities. Students learn to be independent from their parents, utilize technology and resources provided, and see post secondary education as a way to reinvent themselves, the article says.
Chaffey College’s Disability Program and Services helps to not only provide these resources, but builds the support and confidence of students to make the transition into college easier.
“I’ve had a lot of bullies over the years because the sound of my voice, how tall I am, how big my feet are, especially the feet,” Robertson said.
In high school there were many bullies and people who didn’t understand her,” she said. Her college experience has been entirely different.
“College is more of a professional stage, there’s people here to help you, and people take you seriously,” Robertson said.
According to The National Center For Learning Disabilities, obtaining a degree beyond high school is crucial in order for individuals to compete in today’s labor market. Post-secondary education plays a major role in preparing people for career opportunities.
The same article cites research that has shown that people with disabilities believe receiving a college degree allows them to obtain and maintain employment, earn a higher annual income and create a pathway to lifelong independence and greater quality of life.
“Chaffey’s program has helped me tremendously,” Robertson said. “First all the test-taking, I have more time, I feel more independent, I get the classes I need, the counselor’s and teachers are amazing and then Bill, who’s the director of the DPS program, he’s helped me out so much.”
William “Bill” Miller, 36, of San Bernardino, is the director of Chaffey’s disabilities programs and services.
“When a student is in K-12, they fall under the IDEA Act,” Miller said. “It was a legal system set up to ensure kids with disabilities got the same opportunity to get a quality education as everybody else.”
Miller says this act was set up during the 1970s. Before that, when a student had a disability they often weren’t sent to school. The IDEA Act protected the right for a student under 18 years of age to receive a mainstream education.
When a student reaches 18, they fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This includes everything from hiring and firing, to job training and promotions.
“A big piece of the ADA is your right to privacy, so if I don’t want everybody in my class to know that I have a psychiatric disability, I have the right for it to be my private information and they don’t need to know about it,” Miller said.
When a student interacts with a professor, it’s also the law that the instructor not share the personal business with other classmates or faculty.
For Chaffey student Sarah McNellis, 27, of Ontario, the right of privacy is something that is important to her.
She suffers from ADHD, dyslexia, and has a learning disability. She remembers elementary school being rough. Students constantly made fun of her. It was hard for her to make friends and she would rely on teachers and staff to accompany her during lunch periods. In high school, she said her experience was the same and she didn’t do to well academically.
“But then when I got to Chaffey College, they actually sit you down and help you find the classes that you need and even allow parents to attend the session, that really helped me a lot,” McNellis said.
The accommodations that she receives have helped her tremendously, she said.
“I get extra time on tests, a tape recorder because I have a hard time reading, and even get to use a calculator in my math class,” McNellis said.
In order for a student with disabilities to be successful they need to take advantage of the resources the program offers by getting all the help they can get from teachers and staff, McNellis said. These resources help students take the next step in their educational career so they can transfer to a four-year university in the future.
Miller explains the graduation and transfer rates for students with disabilities over the past couple of years.
“Right now, we’re looking at 60 to 70 percent of students either transferring to a university or receiving an associate degree, and that percentage has been the same over the past two years,” Miller said. “So that means that 200 out of 2,200 DPS students transfer or receive a degree at Chaffey College.”
According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the transfer velocity cohort report in 2007-2008 indicates that 197 out of 1,991 students with disabilities transferred to a four-year institution from Chaffey College.
In the same year, Citrus Community College, located in the city of Glendora, had
199 out of 1457 students with disabilities transfer to another university. This means that Chaffey had more students in the program compared to Citrus and had almost the same amount of students transferring.
“One of the reasons for these numbers is that students with disabilities maybe feel overwhelmed by the process because of the size of the university campus and they also feel intimidated by the university,” the director said. “The university is more expensive and students don’t have room for error, so they really have to be good at self advocacy at the university level.”
Money being spent on Chaffey College’s DPS program varies by the year and the school. Money is allocated based on the number of students in each school’s program.
“Every year the federal government looks at how many students you served and what kind of services are being offered, and based on that they will give you a certain amount of money for the next year,” Miller said. “In 2013 and 2014 we have received roughly around $600,000 in funds.”
Students also have the opportunity to reinvent themselves when making the transition to college.
Theresa Robles, 22, of Chino, is a nursing student at Chaffey College.
“My nephew has ADD and didn’t receive any aid in high school,” Robles said. “Then when he attended Chaffey he bloomed and became more confident in himself, in part because of what DPS has to offer.”
Robles says his improvement is largely because he sees a counselor once a month which helps him to stay on track with his goals. She notices that he is more organized with his work and is dedicating time to study.
Michael Johnson, who is over 60, of Redlands, is a DPS counselor for Chaffey College.
“One of our primary focuses, as counselors and mentors is that we make students realize that they have to have a plan, and they can’t just wonder around and take classes that might be fun,” Johnson said. “They need to have a goal and they need to progress.”
Johnson does this by making students have realistic goals. This helps them to achieve results in a short amount of time and keeps them motivated, he says.
Chaffey College’s DPS program plays a vital role in ensuring students have the support they need to succeed in college, Miller said.
“The reason why it’s more important for a person with a disability to receive a bachelor’s degree is just to prove to an employer that despite having a disability, they can still be successful in college,” Miller said, “and that helps them get a job.”