Evaluating and enhancing the range of support services and accommodations for Virginia Tech students with disabilities was the focus of a report recently released by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, in partnership with Student Affairs.

Initiated through a charge from Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke, the Disabilities Support Task Force was formed in fall 2018 to conduct a year-long study on the experiences of Virginia Tech students who receive support from Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). Led by Chris Wise, assistant vice president for student affairs, and Robin Panneton, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Science, the task force sought to benchmark SSD practices and processes at peer institutions and to make recommendations regarding actions that Virginia Tech should take to ensure it is serving the current and future needs of students with disabilities.

“The important work of the Disabilities Support Task Force and the report they produced will serve as a comprehensive guide for planning and enhancing our services for students with disabilities,” said Clarke. “The report comes at a critical time for Virginia Tech as we work to accommodate the increased numbers of students with disabilities on our campus and to provide them with the support services needed to help them be successful in their studies.”

The Disabilities Support Task Force report is designed to address each of six questions posed by Clarke to the group. Throughout its work, the task force discussed and integrated relevant research findings; surveys of student, staff and faculty groups on the Virginia Tech campus and peer campuses; and internal deliberations. The final report presented responses to the following:

  • How does Virginia Tech compare with its peer universities in regard to the number of students provided accommodations and related commitment of resources?
  • How are federal mandates regarding students with disabilities communicated with and implemented by SSD?
  • What resources are needed for Virginia Tech to meet its legal obligations and aspirational goals in support of students with accommodations?
  • What additional policies and procedures, if any, need to be developed to address the use of service animals as approved accommodations?
  • Are there improvements that may be made to better coordinate the actions of SSD and the colleges to provide seamless accommodations to students in a timely manner?
  • How may SSD and associated offices educate and support faculty and department heads in implementing services for students?

“Virginia Tech aspires to provide services and opportunities for students with disabilities that go above and beyond minimum standards and expectations, “said Wise. “We want students to see Virginia Tech as an institution that supports their success, fully embraces and exemplifies our Principles of Community, and is truly committed to our motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).”

According to the task force report, campuses across the nation that are dedicated to serving students with disabilities continually struggle to secure sufficient resources and information, educate faculty and staff about the importance of providing optimal educational opportunities for all their students, and empower students to utilize accommodations in ways that promote their academic achievement.

Although Virginia Tech is on par in its efforts to provide these services in comparison to many peer institutions, the university faces challenges in providing unparalleled academic and campus life experiences for students with disabilities, as the overall student population continues to increase.

Through consideration of the literature, analysis of survey data, assessment of Virginia Tech's current practices, and discussions with SSD directors at other institutions, the Disabilities Support Task Force developed several key recommendations based on each of the six questions posed to the group.

Overall, Wise and Panneton said the task force sees the need to encourage and support both students who come with accommodation needs and those who discover accommodation needs as they forge their academic careers at Virginia Tech.

“The information amassed by the task force suggests that, as a university community, we have a strong need for ongoing, sustainable education and outreach to our course instructors and staff regarding best practices in helping students with disabilities,” said Panneton. “Virginia Tech’s SSD team requires support from and partnership with the campus to meet and exceed its obligations to provide accommodations and services.”

The Disabilities Support Task Force report is available for review online. For more information on Virginia Tech SSD, please visit their website or email at ssd@vt.edu.

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