Students Use Disability Services with Increasing Frequency

As the Institute’s student population grows, the use of its student services grows also. But one area of growth that has outpaced enrollment is the number of students registered with the Office of Disability Services.

Normally, the summer months provide a lull in activity for the office, but this summer, the lull never came. When Denise Johnson-Marshall, assistant dean and director of Disability Services, arrived at Tech 10 years ago, 184 students were registered with the office, or about 1 percent. This year, it’s 565, nearly 3 percent.

“You can guess about 10 percent of any population has some sort of disability, so we are low on that scale, but high for us,” she said. 

The office serves students with needs both mental and physical, temporary and permanent. Most students served have some kind of ADD or ADHD, but Johnson-Marshall has also seen more chronic health-related illnesses such as autoimmune diseases, as well as psychological disorders and Asperger’s.

The increased use of Disability Services likely has numerous causes. The office has boosted its outreach to new students by holding open houses at FASET orientation, and faculty members are more frequently referring students. Johnson-Marshall has also seen enhanced communication with high school counselors trying to improve the process of transitioning students who were aware of their disabilities in high school.

“Most students have an inkling that something is going on before they get to college, though some needs do emerge or manifest once they’re here,” she said. Disability Services works with the Counseling Center to screen and assess students when they apply for services if they have not been previously diagnosed.

Even with the increase, Johnson-Marshall hopes more students will continue to register. The competitive environment of both Georgia Tech and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, however, may hinder some students from freely admitting their needs. 

“We want students to be judged by what they can do, not what they can’t. I’d rather see them fail because they didn’t study than because they didn’t have an accommodation they needed.” Accommodations could include a few extra minutes to take an exam or a testing location other than the regular classroom.

In the realm of physical assistance, Disability Services helps coordinate resources for students to overcome physical limitations, whether they’re permanent or caused by a stint on crutches. The turnaround time for receiving temporary services is about 48 hours after applying. For longer-term needs, both mental and physical, applications are processed in about 15 business days. 

Students who don’t need the resources of Disability Services could consider becoming employees. The office, which is part of the Division of Student Affairs, hires more than 130 students each semester to serve as note takers for students with disabilities. Prospective note takers may apply online at the beginning of each semester.