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Local SUNY colleges receive aid to help students with disabilities

Jan. 18—Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced how State University of New York campuses are investing nearly $10 million in annual state funding to support students identified as having disabilities.

According to a media release, SUNY campuses are utilizing their portion of the nearly $10 million state investment to expand services for students identifying with disabilities in a variety of ways, including:

—All 29 state-operated campuses will hire staff to mitigate barriers and support students with disabilities, which includes disability services coordinators, learning specialists, physical accessibility specialists, and electronic information technology (EIT) accessibility officers.

—At least 25 campuses will purchase new accessibility technology and equipment for student and faculty use to ensure students can access course digital and in-person course content.

—At least 24 campuses will invest in improvements to the physical space of the campus to be more accessible for students with disabilities.

—At least 21 campuses will provide professional development to faculty on topics such as supporting students with disabilities.

—At least eight programs are developing summer transition programs to help support students with disabilities transition from high school to the demands of college.

—At least 11 campuses are using the funds to support other innovative student focused supports for students with disabilities.

SUNY Cobleskill "had approximately 280 students with identified disabilities enrolled in 2022-23," SUNY Cobleskill Director of Communications Jason Politi said in an email. "With funding assistance from SUNY, the college will be implementing new data management software called Symplicity Accommodate. The software modernizes the accommodation request process with a fully ADA-compliant interface that allows students to seamlessly submit requests, connect with note-takers/transcribers, have assistive devices checked out electronically, and more. In short, it removes much of the administrative process when making and fulfilling these requests, making it easier for students with disabilities to request and receive the accommodations they need to be successful."

SUNY Delhi will use the funds received to "hire additional staff to proactively address barriers to access and ensure equitable opportunities for students with disabilities, including positions to coordinate exams and monitor digital accessibility efforts on campus," Gabriella Vasta, interim director of accessibility and opportunity programs and EIT accessibility officer at SUNY Delhi said in an email.

SUNY Delhi will also purchase new software and equipment and is building a serenity room that "will provide a quiet, sensory-friendly space for neurodivergent students," she said. "Lastly, in collaboration with Health and Counseling Services, we will implement Sonic Connections, an immersive arts-based wellness program that fuses music with skill-building to help college students enhance their resilience, reduce stigma, and foster community and belonging."

SUNY Oneonta "will use the funds to strengthen the ability of its Office of Accessibility Resources to provide even greater support to students with disabilities," Jill Shea-Feury, director of media relations said in an email. "The campus is obtaining new accessible classroom furniture, including desks for wheelchair users, and purchasing new notetaking technology and camera equipment in our testing center. Additionally, staff will participate in focused professional development on the autism spectrum, assisted technologies, and supporting students with mental health diagnoses."

The funding was secured through this year's $163 million increase in direct operating aid to SUNY's state-operated campuses, the release said.

According to data reported to the state Education Department, more than 30,000 SUNY students reported having a disability, which also means that 39% of college students identifying with disabilities in the state attend a SUNY institution. Yet according to an analysis from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 37% of college students who had a disability in college reported it while in college. NCES found that students who reported a disability were more likely to be placed in remedial courses and were more likely to utilize academic services.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.