Disability Center looking for help

By Lance Braud

The Disability Resource Center, located in B132, is looking for volunteers for their note-taking program to assist the more than 400 students with disabilities on BCC’s campus this quarter.

A person with ADHD, or a severe brain injury may not be an effective note taker. A note-taking volunteer makes their notes available to a student with a documented disability that is taking the same class as the volunteer. Susan Gjolmesli (YOL-mess-lee), director of the Disability Resource Center, says that in addition to the good feeling that comes with helping others, volunteering as a note-taker has practical benefits too. The typical volunteer finds their note-taking skills improve, their grades improve, and it’s a great thing to have on a resume.

Although the note-taking volunteer is the most common accommodation for the student with a disability, other resources are available as well. The center can provide books in alternative formats such as Braille and audio books, or arrange extended time for test taking. “We provide course modification and legal aids to equalize the playing field for students with disabilities,” says Gjolmesli. The center also provides resources for faculty and the community. The center can communicate to faculty, staff, and community agencies for the student and can advocate on their behalf regarding disability issues.

To qualify for assistance, a student must have a documented disability. If a student suspects they have a disability, but has not been diagnosed, Gjolmesli urges the student to drop by the center for an intake interview. The Disability Resource Center can make suggestions and possibly a referral to point the student in the right direction.

Gjolmesli herself has a disability. She is nearly blind. You would not know it from speaking to her on the phone. On campus, you may see her accompanied by her beautiful Golden Retriever, Inez, but not always. In her office you may notice that she works comfortably with the light off, checks Inez’s bowl for water by dipping her finger in it, and her computer audibly announces there is new email. I ask her if I should point out her disability, she says it doesn’t matter: “I’m a regular person. My blindness doesn’t define me.”

And it doesn’t. Over the summer, she’s overseen the implementation of a new database that will allow her staff to better support the 450 students they will serve this quarter. She is also busy planning for the Annual Disability Pride event on October 23. There will be two productions of Not Just Ramps in the Carlson Theater, which she promises is “exciting, funny, informative, real and different.”

Gjolmesli points out that 58 million Americans have disabilities: 1 in 5 students in the classroom. These disabilities are not usually apparent to the other students, but each one of us is personally affected by disability. And as age wears on each of us, we all become disabled. Volunteer note-takers can help make college easier for the many students at BCC who need it. After this first week of classes, she expects even more students will come for help: “Yes, I’m waiting for the second siege.”

You can find out more about the Disability Resource Center at its website: http://www.bellevuecollege.edu/drc/