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Project PACE

From Medical Model to Social Model: Shifting the Paradigm

The Disability Resource Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has recognized that the shift from medical model thinking to social model thinking begins right at home. We are working to create this shift on campus by first changing the way we represent disability in our own work. We are also working to initiate a campus-wide commitment to universal design.

Office Name

Old
Disability Support Services
Problems
  • The terms “support” and “services” are more medical model terms. They imply that students with disabilities need “support” and they keep the focus on the student as the problem rather than placing the focus on the environmental barriers.
New
Disability Resource Center
Reasons for Change
  • We want to create an image that is consistent with the other shifts we have made over the years. We are a resource to students and to the campus community and provide services to both.
  • Often, in fact, our role is to assist the campus community in creating more usable and inclusive environments. When this is accomplished access for students with disabilities is seamless.
  • The name “Disability Resource Center” indicates that we are a resource to students as well as other members of the campus community. Through the years we have taken on the role of providing resources and technical assistance even beyond the campus community, in both a routine and very regular way when our colleagues from other institutions call us for assistance and advice, and through programs such as PACE and PEPNet-South/Arkansas SOTAC.
  • Some offices are choosing names that place the focus more directly on the environment—such as Center for Educational Access or similar names. We acknowledge that these names do indeed reflect social model in that they places the responsibility for access less on the student and more on the environment. However, some proponents of name changes that remove the term “disability” argue that students steer away from their office because of that term. This is a reflection of the problems of our society and the lack of acceptance of diversity. We want to change the way people think about disability rather than shrink away from the reactions that people have to that term. We hope that through our work, our campus community will begin to see the power that goes along with that term and will embrace the rich history of the disability rights movement. We hope that they will come to see disability as an aspect of diversity that is integral to our society and to our campus community.

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Mission Statement

Old
The mission of DSS is to eliminate physical and academic barriers and to fulfill the Division of Educational and Student Services concept of assisting students in achieving their educational, career, and personal goals through the full range of institutional and community resources. In addition, the office was established to insure that students with special needs receive support services and accommodations to allow them equal access to all UALR programs, and that they have the opportunity to realize their potential.
Problems
  • This mission statement was written several years ago and the language reflects more medical model thinking. Words like “assisting”, “insure”, “support services” and “allow” emphasize the DS professional as being the expert who is helping the student achieve access and success.
  • The phrase “students with special needs” is considered patronizing by many people with disabilities. It also places the focus on the student rather than the environment.
New
Providing access to a diverse student population is embedded in the philosophy of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock .1 We recognize disability as an aspect of diversity that is integral to society and to the campus community. To this end, the Disability Resource Center collaborates with students, faculty, staff, and community members to create usable, equitable, inclusive and sustainable learning environments .2 We promote and facilitate awareness and access through training, partnerships, innovative programs and accommodations.3

1-Adapted from Educational Student Services Mission Statement.
2-Adapted from AHEAD “UDLI-endorsed” mission statement.
3-Adapted from U of Arizona’s mission statement.

Reasons for Change
  • The new mission statement is more consistent with new thinking about disability and with the current focus of the office.
  • It emphasizes the collaborative role of the staff and the emphasis on changing the environment rather than simply responding to each student’s access request.
  • When we collaborate with students we are recognizing their own expertise in resolving access issues.
  • Words like “usable”, “equitable”, “inclusive” and “sustainable” are central to the concept of universal design.

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Office Tag Line

Old
The Education You Want, The Services You Need
Problems
  • Focus is on the student’s needs, not on the need for changes in the environment.
  • Communicates that the student needs professional services to get an education
New
Creative Solutions. Together.
Reasons for Change
  • Can include either environmental changes or accommodations, but has a more positive feel and emphasizes collaboration.

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Position Titles

Old
  • Specialist in Deafness
  • Student Development Specialist
  • Office Manager
Problems
  • The term “specialist” has a medical model ring to it. The term “deafness” is not consistent with Deaf Culture thinking. This title clearly makes the staff person the expert.
  • Again, “student development specialist” communicates medical model values in which the “specialist” is doing something to develop the student.
  • Office manager is simply no longer reflective of the range of responsibilities of the person in this position.
New
  • Associate Director
  • Access Consultant
  • Office Manager/Access Technician
Reasons for Change
  • The position formerly titled “Specialist in Deafness” was restructured entirely to play a more administrative role.
  • “Access Consultant” communicates a more collaborative role and can reflect the role while collaborating with students or with other members of the campus community.
  • Addition of “Access Technician” to this title reflects the many duties of this position that relate to preparing alternate formats and coordinating the loan of and training on technology.

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Office Structure

Old
Former office structure included 1 director, 1 student development specialist, 1 specialist in deafness, 1 interpreter/transcriber coordinator, 2 interpreter/transcriber positions, and 1 office manager.View chart with former structure
Problems
  • As the role of the office has shifted toward focusing outward, there has been an increasing demand on the director to remain aware of changes that might impact campus-wide access issues.
  • With an addition of a second interpreter position, there were 4 positions out of 7 that were designated for providing services to deaf and hard of hearing students, a population that comprises a small percentage of the students that contact the office with requests.
  • A change in the PEPNet grant program structure eliminated part of the role of the specialist in deafness.
  • The office manager position has evolved over time to include a lot of duties that require a higher level of technical expertise.
  • The student development specialist responds to the majority of requests and thus has little time for engaging in activities that are proactive and result in long-term change or tangible outcomes.
  • If, under this structure, the Specialist in Deafness is promoted to Director, then a new Specialist in Deafness would be hired and there would be two staff members with similar educational backgrounds.
New
The proposed structure eliminates the Specialist in Deafness position and creates an Associate Director position. The office manager’s additional duties are formalized. Duties are redistributed in such a way that every person on staff participates in a combination of reactive and proactive activities. The ability to communicate effectively in American Sign Language is not tied to one particular position but can “float” between the Director position, the Associate Director position and the Access Consultant (formerly Student Development Specialist). That is, the Director will make sure that there is someone on staff at all times with these skills, but it can be someone in any of these three positions. Staff continue to report to the Director when she/he is available and report to the Associate Director in her/his absence.View chart with new structure
Reasons for Change
  • We want all staff members to have the opportunity to collaborate with members of the campus community as well as to respond to student requests. We also want each staff member to participate in activities that result in tangible and sustainable outcomes. We expect this to increase job satisfaction and to communicate a stronger message to the campus community—one that is consistent with the social model of disability. The redistribution of duties allows this goal to be a more realistic one.
  • Allowing the skill of communicating effectively in American Sign Language to float among the Director, Associate Director or Access Consultant allows the office staff to maintain a higher level of diversity of educational backgrounds and areas of expertise.
  • The Associate Director, even though currently the staff person who is skilled in American Sign Language, will respond to requests from other students with disabilities as well. This will create a more equitable situation, decreasing the number of student requests to which the Access Consultant currently responds and allowing her/him to engage in more collaborative activities with the campus community and to work on projects with tangible outcomes.
  • The Associate Director will also take on some of the duties of the Director. This creates a more equitable balance of responsibilities.

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Job Descriptions

Old
View sample of previous job description
Problems
  • Primary focus on legal compliance/knowledge, accommodations and case management
New
View sample of revised job description
Reasons for Change
  • Makes collaboration with campus community the primary role and other duties related to accommodation and ADA secondary

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Syllabus Statement

Old
Disability Support Services: It is the policy of UALR to accommodate students with disabilities, pursuant to federal law and state law. Any student with a disability who needs accommodation, for example in arrangements for seating, examinations, note-taking should inform the instructor at the beginning of the course. It is also the policy and practice of UALR to make web-based information accessible to students with disabilities. If you, as a student with a disability, have difficulty accessing any part of the online course materials for this class, please notify the instructor immediately. The chair of the department offering this course is also available to assist with accommodations. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact Disability Resource Center, telephone 501-569-3143 (v/tty), and on the Web at http://www.ualr.edu/disability.
Problems
  • Language emphasizes legal requirements and the student as the locus of the problem.
  • When legal mandates are emphasized, it creates a culture that asks, “What do we have to do? What is required? What is the minimal response?”
  • The statement is labeled “Disability Support Services” which sends the message that access is directly tied to that office, rather than being available to all students with disabilities.
New
Students with disabilities: It is the policy and practice of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to create inclusive learning environments. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or to accurate assessment of achievement—such as time-limited exams, inaccessible web content, or the use of non-captioned videos—please notify the instructor as soon as possible. Students are also welcome to contact the Disability Resource Center, telephone 501-569-3143 (v/tty). For more information, visit the DRC website at www.ualr.edu/disability.
Reasons for Change
  • The language places the problem with access in the environment and the responsibility with the designer of the course.
  • It is addressed to “students with disabilities” rather being tagged with the office name. Some barriers can easily be removed as a result of collaboration between the student and the professor without further intervention. This statement leaves room for that process to occur.

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Letter to Professors

Old
View original letter
Problems
  • Laden with medical model and legal language.
New
View revised letter
Reasons for Change
  • The new format is a step toward more social model thinking. Though there is still some legal language, it is moved down in the letter and the idea that creating inclusive environments is a part of the campus culture has greatest emphasis.
  • The new letter introduces the concept of universal design and provides a link to resources to guide professors further in creating inclusive and usable environments.

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Documentation Guidelines

Old
View original description of documentation requirements In practice, there has been some flexibility and decisions about the need for additional documentation have been made on a case-by-case basis.
Problems
  • The requirement for documentation is, in and of itself, a medical model process.
  • Previous description was laden with medical model language.
  • The written requirements varied by type of disability.
  • Collecting and keeping track of documentation requires an enormous amount of time but does not result in changes in the environment. By focusing on documentation, the message that is sent is that the problem exists within the individual. It has been identified through our strategic planning process as one of the “water-bailing” activities—one of the processes that takes up a lot of time but does not result in any long-term changes.
New
View revised documentation guidelines The new practice will be to interview the student first, then request additional documentation as needed. More credence will be given to the student’s self-report, experience and ideas about what is effective. Documentation will be viewed as a part of the collaborative process with the student. Abandoning documentation was not seen as an option at this point. Concerns of doing so center around credibility with faculty, perceived inequities for certain accommodations like extended time or course waivers. New procedures will be implemented for the Fall ‘07 semester. After a month or two into the semester, the guidelines and process will be re-visited based on staff experience with this trial period of de-emphasizing documentation.
Reasons for Change
  • The DRC staff recognize that the language and process both send messages that are inconsistent with new thinking about disability.
  • The new guidelines represent a step toward more social model thinking. The amount of medical model language has been reduced.
  • The following ideas are represented briefly in the new version of the written guidelines:
    • the collaborative nature of the process
    • the disabling environment
    • the possibility that in some situations, no documentation will be needed

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Updated 8.1.2008