Historically, individuals with disabilities were not afforded legal right to accommodations in post-secondary educational institutions and were essentially invisible on college campuses. It has only been in the past four decades that significant progress has been made in providing access to higher education for those with disability-related limitations. With the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 and the Lanterman Act in 1976, doors began to open in higher education for individuals with disabilities. Section 504 provided federal legislative access and the Lanterman Act provided the funding mechanism. After the passage of these landmark statutes, our campus and the student population began to change. The College took a proactive, aggressive stance toward access, and within a short period of time, the College was physically and programmatically accessible.
Prior to the mid-1970s, the Counseling Department attempted to serve and accommodate the small number of identified students with disabling conditions. In 1974, the "Handicapped Student Center" was established that was minimally staffed and served approximately 150 students during the first year it opened. From 1974 to 1980, the program focused primarily on serving those with physical disabilities and students who were blind or experienced low vision. A small speech component was added in 1977 and limited service was available for a very few deaf and hard of hearing students.
The year of 1979-80 marked a significant change in the program. A director was hired and the Department was placed under the managerial auspices of Special Programs (EOPS and DSP&S).
At this time, two major components, learning disabilities and deaf/hard of hearing, were added. With these formal, professionally staffed components, full access for these populations was now available. It became common to see students in wheelchairs, with white canes, and using sign language all over campus. With increased understanding of students with learning disabilities in the K-12 educational system, faculty were beginning to learn about and understand these students' needs in their college classrooms.
In 1986, the Department of Rehabilitation awarded the College a grant to develop a career placement component, WorkAbility III. Experienced, professional staff were hired to implement this program. Using categorical funding, the College institutionalized the WorkAbility III program in 1999. The career placement program changed its name to Better Access for Students and Employers (B.A.S.E.).
In 1987, the department changed its name from "Handicapped Student Services" to "Disabled Student Programs & Services," in keeping with the trend toward disuse of the label, "handicapped." Our programs and services expanded and developed into one of the largest and most comprehensive community college programs for students with disabilities in the state.
In 1988, the Department of Rehabilitation again awarded the College a grant to establish a High Tech Center for students with disabilities. With adaptive hardware, software and assistive devices, this Center began addressing the very special needs of students with acquired brain injuries, learning disabilities and severe physical disabilities. The Department of Rehabilitation supported this program for its first two years, after which the College, through categorical funding, continued and expanded it.
A landmark piece of legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), became law in 1990. The ADA provides the same protection as Section 504, however it is broader in context and coverage, and redress is more defined. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was amended (1998) to require that state and federal agencies use, develop or purchase electronic information technology that is fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. California Education Code, Section 67302 came into effect in 1999, mandating publishers in California to provide the right and the means to produce instructional materials in alternate formats (Braille, e-text, large print, etc.)
By the year 2000, the numbers of DSP&S students had grown by 63% from the previous decade (from 868 in 1990-91 to 1,417 in 2000-01). To accommodate this growth DSP&S increased to seven, distinct interdependent components with their own set of services: Physical Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, Speech Disorders, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, High Tech Center, B.A.S.E., and Instruction. In 2000, we offered 13 classes-29 sections. The instructional component of DSP&S grew significantly since 1995, when we had 10 courses and 18 sections. In addition, we provided services for students who were blind, or had low vision, were psychiatrically disabled, had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were developmentally delayed or had other medical conditions which affected their learning.
An outstanding faculty of 8 full time individuals, an equally outstanding classified staff of 7 full time employees together with hourly employees, student workers and the Director comprised approximately 100 DSP&S employees per year who provided a comprehensive program. DSP&S was viewed as a premier program for students with disabilities. Some of our components were and continue to be emulative models.
By that time, DSP&S and students with disabilities were intrinsically woven into the fabric of Mt. San Antonio College. Integrating students in the life of the college is a primary objective of our program, and toward this end, we have been very successful. Students with disabilities participate in every aspect of college community. Students with disabilities have represented the student body in leadership positions as Student Trustee, Associated Students President, and a variety of student senator positions. Strength in Diversity is the re-grouped student club with interest in disability issues. The club was reactivated in 2001 with renewed enthusiasm and a reaffirmed mission.
In the last decade, the Chancellor's Office and the California legislation identified certain priorities for community college DSP&S programs. California Education Code Section 67302, which provided access to instructional and non-instructional materials in alternate formats, was funded on an ongoing basis. Captioning for distance education videos primarily and all other videos secondarily was funded by the Chancellor's Office for a 5 year period to allow colleges to caption existing video libraries. California Education Code 67302 was amended to include Section 67302.5; adding a provision allowing public higher education to obtain either access to the video electronically and permission to caption it within a reasonable amount of time, or access to a captioned version. Nationally, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended in 2008 to be more inclusive and definitive.
To keep up with the increasing mandates and fluctuations in the budget, the numbers of DSP& S faculty and staff have also fluctuated during the last decade. In 2002, the DSP&S faculty grew to 9. Classified staff increased to 16. Due to budget constraints, resignations, and changes in priorities and student demand, currently there are 7 faculty, 14 classified staff. In 2009, due to the increasing Deaf and hard of hearing population and the complexities of providing services, DSP&S added an additional manager to the Department to manage the day to day services for that group of students. During this decade the numbers of DSP&S students have also grown exponentially from the 1,417 in 2000-01 to 2,344 in 2009-10; an increase of 929 students or roughly 66%.
There are also societal changes particularly how disability is viewed. For example, principles of " universal design," previously reserved for architectural endeavors are now applied to every aspect of living. Universal design is a humanistic approach to the development of products, architecture and environments that takes into account the varying age, ability and condition of an individual during their entire lifetime.
Technology continues to shape the future, and computer technology is the tool which enables many individuals with disabilities to access this future. DSP&S is fully involved in this 21st century revolution, participating in distance learning, new instructional techniques such as podcasts, clickers and YouTube, construction projects, and innovative service delivery systems which will reach and benefit a greater number of students.
As is evident from this chronology, the field of disabilities is dynamic, exciting, growing and often challenging. We prepare for these and other monumental changes by seriously reviewing our programs and creating new ways to deliver services efficiently and effectively. Staying current with the latest developments in technology, being flexible and responsive to change are essential to the future success of our students.
The focus of our program has been access, retention and transition. How we pursue and achieve these goals is changing and will continue to change, as education attempts to keep in step with a brave new world.
Although we are immersed in technology and must utilize it to be productive and effective, our primary focus is first and foremost, human beings. Students with disabilities are students first, with the disability representing only one facet of their being. Ours is a very personal mission. In this capacity, we must listen and perceive the hopes and dreams, as well as the reality of those we serve.
We in DSP&S greatly appreciate the support and cooperation of Mt. SAC's administration, faculty and staff. We fully realize that there is still much to be done to enhance the knowledge and awareness of this special needs population and our plans for the future address this reality.
Written by Mayme G. Thornton in 1995, former Director of DSP&S (1979-1996).
Edited and updated by Grace T. Hanson (2010) current Director of DSP&S and Vicki Greco, DSP&S Counselor/Learning Disabilities Specialist.