Dec. 16, 2013Vol. 44, Issue 2

Accessibility Resource Center Serves Campus

ARC student employees Jamie Marie Hartman, left, and Jacob Wirtz give rides to dozens of people on campus each week.

ARC student employees Jamie Marie Hartman, left, and Jacob Wirtz give rides to dozens of people on campus each week.

In July 2011, Disability Support Services (DSS) at Chico State changed its name to the Accessibility Resource Center (ARC). The former sounded “too paternal,” says Director Sandy Parsons-Ellis.

But the name change marked a transition that was more than a matter of semantics. The center was also expanding the scope of its services, making the ARC a “one-stop” destination for the campus community’s accessibility needs.

In the past, Disability Support Services served only students, while employee accommodations were handled by Human Resources. The management of public accommodations wasn’t standardized. But that all changed when Parsons-Ellis volunteered to take on the role of ADA coordinator, the person responsible for the institution’s overall compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. “It was a good move because people wouldn't get the runaround about where to go for support and accommodations,” she says.

In its current form, the ARC’s nine employees serve hundreds of students with disabilities and medical conditions each semester, and Parsons-Ellis personally manages accommodations for faculty, staff, and visitors to campus.

While students usually seek assistance in the classroom (note taking, getting textbooks and exams converted into alternate formats, test-taking administration, etc.), employees generally request other types of accommodations (alternate schedules, workplace modifications, cart rides, student assistants to help manage lifting restrictions, etc.) Sometimes, employees are just seeking disability counseling. There isn’t a menu of services people can choose from; rather, services and accommodations are tailored to the individual based on the staff’s expertise—which they have a wealth of.

Parsons-Ellis has a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and has worked with people with disabilities for more than 25 years. Her previous work includes running a nonprofit employment program for people with disabilities, managing social recreational programs and several care homes, and most recently serving as the rehabilitation supervisor and ADA coordinator for the California state Department of Rehabilitation, covering Butte, Glenn, Plumas, Lassen, and Modoc counties. She came to Chico State in 2006. 

Two other ARC employees, Charlene Corder and Holly Hunt, are also certified rehabilitation counselors who have worked in the field for more than 20 years each.

Sandy Parsons-Ellis, ARC director

Sandy Parsons-Ellis, ARC director

“People sometimes refer to us as disability advocates, and we’re not,” Parsons-Ellis says. “We’re practitioners, and our goal is for people to have equal access and to have their civil rights upheld, but it’s just as important to us to maintain the academic integrity of the program, to maintain the integrity of the industry for which we’re training people. We have that same goal and those same expectations faculty and staff have.”

Parsons-Ellis is currently serving 27 university employees, and she handles public accommodations approximately 10 times a week. Of Chico State’s entire population of students, about 4.5 percent are registered with the ARC, which is the third-highest percentage in the CSU system.

This would seem to indicate that awareness of the services offered by the ARC is fairly high, but the piece Parsons-Ellis thinks may be missing is the knowledge of what qualifies as a disability. Some campus community members may not realize that the center not only serves people who have learning disabilities, sensory impairment, or use wheelchairs but also those who have chronic medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and psychological conditions.

“I am a rehabilitation counselor,” she says, “so I can help people sort through the issues connected to their disability—figuring out how to manage their diabetes while at work or talking through how to tell their supervisor they have a disability.”

In addition, she thinks there is room for growth in the awareness of disability as an aspect of diversity. People with disabilities are incredibly underemployed, she says, and it’s not because they don’t have the proper skills or education—it’s because the awareness is still not there about what they can contribute to society.

“That’s my big philosophical bummer,” she says. “Our students are bright and gifted and creative in all the same ways that other students are. I mean the fact that they have a disability or need accommodations in no way takes away from their ability to make an incredible contribution to our campus and our community.”

To register with the ARC, housed in Students Services Center 220, or learn more about the services the center offers, contact Parsons-Ellis at 530-898-5959 or skparsons@csuchico.edu.

—Kacey Gardner, Public Affairs and Publications

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