Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rio Salado Offers Services to Assist Students with Disabilities

Gregory Kosko
Tomorrow marks the start of Deaf-Blind Awareness Week, a national observance created by Presidential Proclamation in 1984 to honor the birth month of Helen Keller.

Over the years, Rio Salado College has done its part to serve students with disabilities, including those with visual, hearing, learning, physical, mental, emotional, and temporary health challenges.

“Rio Salado provides reasonable accommodations to all students with documented disabilities, and works with each student individually to determine what is appropriate,” said Terry Ferra, manager of the college’s Disability Resources and Services department.

Some services may include, but are not limited to:
  • Textbooks in electronic format
  • Assistive technologies such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, JAWS, Magic Pro, ZoomText, CCTV Screen (available at Rio’s testing centers and computer labs)
  • Reader and/or scribe for testing
  • Extended test taking time
  • Private in-person testing
  • Enlarged exams 
  • Interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing students for in-person events
“We refer many of our students struggling with personal development, family, mental, and/or emotions issues to our Counseling Services department,” Ferra said. “Even though our counselors are not therapists, they are amazing resources to help guide students in these areas.”

The college has had a dedicated Disability Services department for nine years, and has seen exponential growth during that time.

“Before the department was established, the college served approximately 25-40 students per year,” Ferra said. “Now our department accommodates an average of 500 students per year.”

Ferra has always had an interest in helping individuals with disabilities.

“The best thing about my job is the partnership created with our students so they can achieve success, not only with their educational goals but with their personal development as well,” Ferra said.

Gregory Kosko, a 2012 Rio Salado graduate, attributes his academic success to the services he received at the college.

"Rio Salado’s Disability Services, and specifically manager Terry Ferra, helped me through to the completion of each and every course," Kosko said. "Without this assistance, I simply would not have been able to return to school."

Kosko didn’t let a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease get in the way of going back to school for a degree to further his careering options. He used voice recognition software to help complete his homework assignments, because his tremors made it difficult to type on a keyboard.

“It inspired me to work with those who have disabilities because I experienced it firsthand," Kosko said.

Ferra works to get the word out about all the services students can get at Rio Salado.

“We make presentations to high schools to provide information to students with disabilities who may be interested in attending college,” Ferra said. “We also collaborate with high school counselors and transition specialists and other entities to create a bridge to academic success.”