By Amelia Antzoulatos
After record-high registration in the Office of Disability Services last year, the numbers continue to climb this fall with a total of 485 students registered at Rose Hill and 313 students registered at Lincoln Center so far.
Mary Byrnes, director of ODS, says she expects registration will only increase as the school year progresses.
“By the end of September, we should probably exceed the number that we had in January last year,” she said.
According to Byrnes, registration among all campuses will reach about 1,100 students by May 2019, as opposed to 1,022 students in May of last year.
ODS offers a wide variety of physical and social accommodations for students with physical, mental, learning, health, cognitive, visual and hearing disabilities, among others. In response to growing registration, Byrnes says ODS has increased its staff to five full-time members between both campuses – not including two part-time employees and an intern. At Lincoln Center, ODS now has access to a suite of offices with three testing rooms, two offices and a large reception area.
“Right now we’re just really thrilled to have this extra space because its been really, really, very helpful,” said Byrnes.
She said she commended the Fordham administration for being responsive to her requests for a larger staff. The next step is finding the space at Rose Hill to house both administrative buildings and testing centers in one place, according to Byrnes.
Yet ODS also relies on the help of a diverse array of other campus departments in order to accommodate an equally diverse and expanding population of students with disabilities. For instance, while students with learning disabilities constitute the bulk of the registered population, mental disabilities now make up about 20 percent of registration with ODS.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Ng, director for Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), over the past five years, the number of students using Fordham’s CPS has increased by 24 percent, reflecting a nationwide increase in demand for campus mental health services.
“I imagine that some of these increases [at Fordham] can be attributed to the increase in students who have been registering with ODS,” says Ng.
When ODS is concerned about a student’s emotional or mental wellbeing, it refers the student to CPS, which then works to identify and develop the best support for students.
Like the Office of Disability Services, CPS has also expanded its resources in recent years.
“We have increased the size of both our core staff and our training programs (interns/externs, post-doctoral fellows, psychiatric residents) in the past five years in response to the increase demand and utilization for on campus mental health services,” said Ng. He adds, “We have also expanded our prevention, education and population based programs in the community.”
Other offices, like Enrollment Services, operate “behind-the-scenes” to improve students’ experiences.
“Our interaction with [students with disabilities] is more indirect because we’re working with the Office of Disability Services,” said Gene Fein, Ph.D., assistant vice president for Academic Services and Records, a subgroup of Enrollment Services. Fein’s office ensures students with disabilities have priority for class registration. For students with physical disabilities, Academic Services also shifts courses into buildings which are accessible for them, although Fein says most buildings on campus are now ADA compliant anyway.
In addition to Enrollment Services and CPS, Byrnes also said he was grateful for the support ODS receives from each college’s deans and professors, as well as from Facilities and Custodial Services, Public Safety, Security, Health Services and Career Services. In the future, she hopes to hire a part-time ODS staff member with a Career Services background who can correspond with companies and grant programs seeking students with disabilities for certain positions or awards.
“I know it’s something that’s above and beyond. It’s not a necessity, but it would be a nice component,” Byrnes said. “There are a lot of opportunities” which she hopes ODS will be able to make more accessible for students moving forward.