By Joanna Baniszewski and Wirt Honnick --
An often-overlooked student-support office sits in Memorial Hall and serves an often-overlooked population. The Passaic County Community College Office of Disability Services (ODS) serves students with various disabilities and is a vital part of the PCCC support system. While other offices, such as Student Support Services and Student Advocacy also include students with disabilities, the Office of Disability Services provides the accommodations needed for students to participate online and on-campus. According to the PCCC ODS Handbook, The US Federal Government mandates that under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that all colleges provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Every building, whether at the main campus in Paterson, Passaic, or Wanaque has an elevator, as well as stair lifts as required by the ADA. The Office of Disability Services works with students with physical, developmental, behavioral, emotional, and sensory-related disabilities. ODS requires that students provide proof of a disability to be approved for services. Once approved, ODS provides students with tailored services to help them achieve their academic potential.
ODS "used to require a student to fill out a physical application, but once the lockdown came the Office moved everything online,” Darleen McGrath-Florance, the Director of the Office wrote, "the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for the office." Students are now able to fill out an application called a Student Intake Form, submit documentation, agree to a release of information, and provide their signature directly on the PCCC website. The student then has a meeting, either in-person, via Zoom, or via telephone, to discuss their specific needs. The Office is able to process the applications faster and more efficiently when it is completed online, said McGrath-Florance.
Once the student is approved, a variety of resources and accommodations are available. ODS can assign a fully certified, accredited American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter at no cost to d/Deaf students, for instance. The interpreter attends up to twelve credits of classes with the student. Interpretation services are available in Zoom classes, too. If the student knows they will not attend class on a specific day, they are required to give twenty-four-hour notice. If the student becomes aware less than twenty-four hours in advance, though, McGrath-Florance said that one-hour notice is acceptable.
According to the PCCC Disability Handbook, the Disability Office provides other services such as allowing a Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) to attend classes with the students as mandated by the ADA. PCAs provide transportation for the student to and from campus, administer medications, and assist with activities of daily living. PCAs can range from family members who care for the student, or they can be a paid caretaker. PCAs provide for a student's overall well-being, which includes emotional and physical issues.
ODS also manages service dogs on campus, allowing disabled students with service dogs to have their service animal present with them on campus, including in classes. To be allowed, the student must prove that the service dog meets the ADA requirements to be allowed public access. The dog can accompany the student for in-person classes as long as the dog is under the control of the handler and does not pose a physical threat to any other student, faculty, or staff member.
ODS also manages academic accommodations for students, which fall into two major categories: testing accommodations and classroom accommodations. Testing accommodations include extended time on tests, calculator usage in certain math courses, alternative presentations of exams. Classroom accommodations include access to a student note-taker, allowing recordings of lectures, extended time on assignments, attendance accommodations, and preferential seating. The Office of Disability Services provides students with a vast number of resources to help them succeed, with most of these services being provided free of charge to students. If one of the more common accommodations can’t meet the students need, ODS can provide services not explicitly stated in the Handbook with the permission of the Dean. With the help of ODS, the goal is to give students with disabilities the support, accommodations, and services they need to succeed.
If a student wishes to apply for services through the Office of Disability Services, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call them at 973-684-6395.
Passaic County Community College Disability Office Handbook
Interview with Ms. Doreen McGrath-Florance by email