Fewer disabled referral options at MU

Students struggle to find reliable personal attendants after a list was eliminated.
Monday, October 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:26 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jamie Stober planned to study journalism in college and said he knew MU was the place to be. But after transferring from State Fair Community College in Sedalia and spending only three days on campus, Stober had to leave.

“As a disabled student, I’d heard good things about (MU) — that the campus was accessible and they were very helpful,” he said.

Stober relies on a personal-care attendant to help him with everyday tasks, such as getting in and out of bed, bathing and getting dressed. Before school began, he posted fliers around campus and placed ads in the newspaper in hopes of finding one for the school year.

He received a few responses, but none who could begin immediately. His mother stayed with him the first few days on campus but had to get home to work — forcing Stober to leave with her.

“I wish I had been able to stay a few more days,” he said.

Both students and staff members can identify with Stober’s struggle.

“It worries me to no end when a student needing a personal-care assistant is coming,” said Barbara Hammer, coordinator of the Office of Disability Services. The office used to provide a referral list of students willing to act as attendants. The service was discontinued last fall because of liability issues and negative feedback the office received from students, Hammer said. Students said the list wasn’t effective, largely because it wasn’t current.

The office also was concerned about potentially being held responsible for a student it referred who didn’t fulfill his or her duties as an attendant. Most schools don’t get involved in

personal care issues, Hammer said. The sooner students can find and train personal-care attendants on their own, the better off they’ll be, she said.

Since the discontinuation of the referral service on campus, students have had to lower their expectations and standards for attendants, in hopes of finding anyone willing to help.

Romanda Walker, a graduate student who relies on personal-care attendants to help her throughout the day, said the most frustrating part about trying to find an attendant is “not knowing if they’re going to show up to get you out of bed in the morning.”

Although the referral service is no longer offered by the office, there are other resources disabled students can turn to. One such resource is Services for Independent Living, a consumer-directed organization that assists people with disabilities to reach full inclusion in their communities. Funded by federal, state and local grants, the service is free to those who use it.

The organization serves as an attendant referral service, providing training to all potential attendants. Volunteers must complete a training course conducted by a qualified trainer before being considered as a possible attendant. This ensures that volunteers are competent in performing any required duties.

The organization frequently has students apply to be assistants, especially those in health-related fields.

“It gives them a new viewpoint on disability services,” said Tarzie Hart, assistant director of the organization.The Disability Services Office at MU also targets health-profession students in hopes of assisting those with disabilities as much as possible. The office created a PowerPoint presentation that is shown to students considering careers in nursing, physical therapy or occupational therapy. The presentation contains information on being a personal-care assistant and how students may apply.

The office also provides a resource guide for disabled students, containing information on a range of services, including wheelchair repair shops, physical and occupational therapy offices, pharmacies and disability resources.

Students can also post ads on the Career Center’s Web site, which serves as a resource students can access to find a part-time job. The MU Sinclair School of Nursing also allows students to post fliers on its bulletin board and includes ads on its healthprofessions e-mail list. “We’re still very willing to help students find attendants,” Hammer said.

Walker, after being unable to secure an assistant through the ads she posted, relies on a friend of hers and another acquaintance to help her.

She also said she wished there were more resources available to disabled students.

“The MU campus and Columbia are pretty accessible, but the personal-care services aren’t up to speed to provide the assistance students need in order to use the accessible areas,” she said.

Lee Henson, Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for MU, said that although the university isn’t required to provide every service students may need, “to me, you have some responsibility to help them find some help.”

Currently, there are initiatives to look at the whole design of the university, including campus accessibility, curricula and employment opportunities, to provide access for as many people as possible, he said.

“Disability is a normal part of the human experience, and it’s a natural part of the human experience,” Henson said. “It needs to be seen that way and not as some sort of lesser status.”

As for Stober, he plans to return to MU for the winter semester. Until then, he’s back at State Fair Community College, taking 12 credit hours and preparing for the move back to Columbia.

Although he said he’s disappointed that MU’s Disability Services couldn’t do more for him at the beginning of the year, he’s ready to give the school a second chance with hopes of a better outcome. He is planning on placing advertisements again, looking for a full-time attendant and someone to act as a backup attendant.

“I’m going to try it again,” he said.

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