David Cosner said he looks like an able-bodied college student, but his chronic illness prevents him from behaving like one.
Cosner, marketing junior, said he has undergone approximately 130 lung surgeries, had two-thirds of his right one removed and spent 28 days in a medically-induced coma in November. Cosner has Wegener’s granulomatosis, a chronic inflammatory condition.
Cosner was one of the guest speakers at Tuesday’s Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance and Steering Committee on Disabilities spring 2013 meeting. Clint-Michael Reneau is the new director of the Office of Disability Service, and spoke about his mission, vision and new leadership philosophy for ODS at Monday’s meeting.
Reneau said the committee has to approach each student from an individual basis and be aware of how their identities impact the services they require. He said they must look at each student from a social justice standpoint to understand how “ableism,” discrimination against people with disabilities, is an issue.
“Part of our identity is our ability,” Reneau said. “My philosophy stems from moving from a medical model, where we put the problem on the student and say that the student has the disability. That’s where the problem lies.”
Reneau said ODS has to look at the environmental barriers blocking the student from success. The committee must be able to relate to students with needs for accommodation to get them registered in the ODS office, he said.
“We’re trying to lift the myth and stigmas on the issues in disabilities and help students understand they don’t have to always have a stack of documentation when they come through the door,” Reneau said.
The committee outlined the University Policy and Procedure Statement proposal addressing the number of days missed for students with chronic illnesses. Sherri Benn, Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, said the policy is still in developmental stages. Benn said ODS is researching what other institutions are doing about the problem and is looking to develop a system to better coordinate the needs or services for ill students.
Cosner is one student who may be affected by the new proposal. He has missed a large amount of class throughout his college career, and some of his faculty members were not willing to work with his situation after his first hospitalization. This resulted in Cosner failing a class.
“In the beginning, it’s just really hard for (ODS) to be on your side,” Cosner said. “ODS didn’t really have my back, in the respect that they didn’t fight on my behalf. So, when you’re dealing with just trying to get better, the last thing you want to do is bat for yourself.”
Cosner said after returning to ODS, the office has been much more accommodating to his situation. He hopes ODS will sustain its improved quality.
“Don’t let it lag or drag,” Cosner said. “What I’m trying to say is don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.”
The committee discussed making more Texas State facilities accessible, with improvements beginning in the middle of campus and stretching outward during the span of five fiscal years.
Michael Petty, director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction, said an online map is being developed that will allow students to view the most accessible route from handicapped parking spaces to classes.
Sally Caldwell, sociology associate professor, is one who could find relief in having more disabled accessible routes on campus. Caldwell has a case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She said a ramp going uphill is not accessible for a person with her ailment.
Caldwell said each building on campus should provide a place to sit in close proximity of any door leading inside. Caldwell said she has come close to collapsing numerous times upon entering a building.
“Sometimes I get to a door and think ‘These are my last few moments on earth,’" Caldwell said.
Reneau said ODS’s mission is to listen to a student’s journey and honor their experience by using professional judgment on how they qualify for disability services.
“We’re not creating a culture of care for students if we’re relying on a student to pay $1,300 for a battery of tests,” Reneau said. “We have to make sure that we’re trying to be more socially just in how we serve individuals.”