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In Fall Semester 2000, I charged a Disabilities Services for Students Review Team to conduct a comprehensive assessment for delivery of such services at Penn. The Team, composed of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and staff, was to make recommendations to improve the integration and delivery of services to the increasing number of Penn students presenting with physical, learning, and psychiatric disabilities. The Team benchmarked best practices at peer institutions, assessed current services and needs at Penn, and during a site visit in September consulted widely with students, faculty, staff, service providers, and the Penn community. The draft report of the Review Team was reviewed and discussed by the Council of Deans, Academic Planning and Budget, the Council of Undergraduate Deans, the Council of Graduate Deans, and the Faculty Senate Tri-Chairs. The President and I have reviewed and approve the Report. We are convinced that the implementation of the recommendations will enable us to continue to best serve the needs of students with disabilities.

--Robert Barchi, Provost


A Report to the President and Provost Concerning Services to Students with Disabilities

Submitted by Disabilities Services for Students Review Team

Spring 2001

Executive Summary
The Disabilities Services for Students Review Team recommends that Student Disability Services at the University of Pennsylvania become a comprehensive, integrated office, committed to ensuring that students with disabilities have equal access to all University programs and activities. Policies and procedures should be further developed to provide students with disabilities as much independence as possible and equity to the same exceptional opportunities available to all Penn students in the most integrated setting. The comprehensive office will provide leadership in continuously improving access for students with disabilities, develop and coordinate policies and procedures, maintain confidential records, and provide information on student rights and responsibilities, as well as those of the institution. The office will coordinate or arrange auxiliary aids, services, and the loan of equipment and assistive technologies. Professional staff of the office will evaluate documentation, determine program eligibility, and determine reasonable accommodations for all qualified students with documented disabilities, including academic accommodations, accessible campus housing, and transportation and parking.

The staffing of the Office of Student Disability Services should include two full-time disability specialists. These specialists should be experienced in all aspects of disabilities, including physical, cognitive, and psychological disabilities. Additionally, appropriate supporting staff should be hired. Adequate resources should be available to provide academic support, services, and equipment for students with disabilities. Staffing and resource enhancements for Learning Resources should also be made.

The Review Team recommends that an Office of Student Disability Services be created and combined with various services for students with disabilities in one office reporting to the Vice Provost for University Life, to provide an integrated model of academic support services to students with disabilities.



The recommendations contained in this Report reflect a pragmatic philosophy--to emphasize a few key proposals that can be implemented in a timely way, which may serve as the foundation for a strategic vision for the future. The immediate aim of these proposals is to reconfigure and appropriately expand existing resources to meet the urgent and growing demand for student disability services in a responsive, consistent, and effective manner to continue in accordance with Federal legislation. Longer-range, the Disabilities Services for Students Review Team members and constituents hope the administration will seriously consider the opportunity for Penn to capitalize on existing strengths to position itself as a national leader in providing disabilities services for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to achieve academic excellence.

Clearly, the primary purpose of all the undergraduate, graduate, and professional students at Penn is to succeed academically. Hence, the Review Team recommends that the core of Penn's strategy be centered on learning and cognitive strategies, in keeping both with leading trends at peer institutions and enthusiastic constituent input. Indeed, the current range of disability-related services--from wheelchair accessible buildings to exam accommodations--is intended to support Penn students with disabilities to attain this ultimate goal.



The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act extended the protection of the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. On a national level, in 1978 less than 3% of college freshman reported having a disability. In just two decades this number had more than tripled in size to 9%. The range of these disabilities is broad. While some students require daily assistance, others may require occasional services, such as extended time on exams, note takers, or signing for lecturers. In the last ten years, the greatest increase has been in the category of learning disabilities; whereas, in 1988, 15% of students reporting a disability cited a learning disability, by 1998 this category had grown to more than 40% nationally

. At the request of the Provost, Deputy Provost Peter Conn organized a Disabilities Services for Students Review Team to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the organization and administration of student disability services at Penn, and to make recommendations to improve the integration and delivery of disabilities services to students with disabilities. Recommendations were to include services, policies, communication strategies, and the roles of the faculty and the schools across the campus. The Review Team received information on current disabilities services; collected additional information from faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders and the University community during a campus visit in September, 2000; and prepared this report including the Team's recommendations.



Current State of Student Disabilities Services at Penn
Currently students with disabilities are provided services through three distinctly different programs in two separate divisions of the University. Students who are seeking accommodations register with one of two programs that deal with documentation and administrative services. The Program for People with Disabilities (PPD), situated in the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, was the original program on campus and was reorganized in 1998 to provide services for students with physical, sensory and/or chronic disabilities. The Learning Disabilities Specialist office was instituted in 1998 and was situated in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) under the Vice Provost for University Life to provide services for students with Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. At this time, CAPS and, though limited in number, the Program for People with Disabilities provide support for students with Psychological Disabilities. However, no clearly defined program of disability services exists for this population. Many students have a combination of disability types and are asked to register with the program that handles their primary disability. Lastly, Tutoring and Learning Resources, in the Department of Academic Support Programs under the Vice Provost for University Life, although not charged with the responsibility for providing services solely to students with disabilities, does offer comprehensive and individualized support in the specific areas of developing cognitive strategies, academic skills, and support. All Penn students are eligible for Tutoring and Learning Resources regardless of their disability type or whether the student is registered for receiving accommodations, but demand often exceeds available resources.

In essence, all three programs offer support services to students with disabilities. These offices communicate with each other about their services and the student population. However, differences in reporting structures, funding, program development, standards, and physical location produce barriers to successful comprehensive services for students with disabilities.


Recommendations for the Organization and Administration of Student Disabilities Services at Penn and for Services and Assistance for Students with Disabilities

Recommendation #1: Combine the various services for Students with Disabilities into one office reporting to the Vice Provost for University Life.
Rationale: With one Office of Student Disability Services, there will be less confusion regarding how to obtain disability services of any kind, and clearer communication among students, service providers, faculty, and staff. This office should serve as the initial point for students seeking disability services and accommodations. This office would have sole responsibility to obtain and file disability-related documents, certify eligibility for services, determine reasonable accommodations, and develop plans for the provision of such accommodations. The office would also offer students with disabilities an array of auxiliary services, including library and lab assistants, notetakers, assistive/adaptive technology, academic, psycho/social support, and mentoring and assessment referral as needed. An integrated office could help support and monitor compliance of the rights and responsibilities of both students with disabilities and the University. Finally, a consolidated office will help to ensure conformity to policies and procedures and the congruence of accommodations across schools and among individual students.

Recommendation #2: Maintain responsibility for disability services for faculty and staff in Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity Programs, and centralize disability services for students.
Rationale: Only a small portion (approximately 20%) of the responsibility of the Associate Director, People with Disabilities Program is concerned with faculty/staff disability issues. While communication and collaboration between Student Disability Services and the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs is encouraged, the concerns of these two offices are essentially different.

Recommendation #3: Hire two full-time professionals (Director and Assistant Director) to provide services to students with disabilities.
Rationale: Effective disability services providers:

  • have a clear understanding of federal and state equal access laws for students with disabilities, and how they apply in a post secondary setting
  • evaluate medical and psychological documentation and make informed decisions on the appropriateness of the documentation with respect to (1) how or whether the condition affects a major life activity and meets the federal and state definition of a disability, and (2) whether there is enough information about the functional limitations caused by the impairment to make appropriate decisions concerning reasonable accommodations
  • understand which individualized accommodations are effective for different types of disabilities in order to reduce the impact of the disability on the educational process, while protecting the academic integrity of the course
  • understand how to use assistive technologies that can help students independently access their learning environment
  • work effectively with students to help them become more independent and successful self-advocates
  • work effectively with faculty and University personnel so that they understand the reasons why an accommodation provides equal access
  • increase dialogue and provide technical assistance and consultation with faculty in determining and defining essential course requirements and standards
  • manage a very complex and often hectic work environment with a clear vision concerning their role in the learning community.

The University must look to experienced disability professionals who have the ability to perform the tasks listed above, rather than specialists who have a limited view of the process. An integration of skills enables disability service providers to handle the unique daily challenges of providing comprehensive options to students with a variety of disabling conditions or multiple disability-related issues.

We recommend that one of these service providers have extensive experience in working with students with cognitive and psychological disabilities, and the other, expertise in working with students with sensory/mobility limitations.

Recommendation #4: Expand the responsibilities of the Student Disabilities Service to include the following:

  • Draft and publish policies and practices to ensure that students with disabilities are treated equitably.
  • Conduct educational trainings and workshops for the campus community, including faculty, students, and advising staff, library services, CAPS, and campus life staff on disability issues.
  • Facilitate campus resources and service programs to promote and provide an integrated setting in which students with disabilities can participate in campus life to the fullest extent possible.
  • Balance the needs of students and the institution, by ensuring that all policies and procedures are in compliance with the law and well documented, as well as conducting policy development, interpretation, and monitoring.
  • Serve as the Section 504, Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Officer for the University.

Rationale: This is based on the assumption that the director will be the campus expert on issues pertaining to 504/ADA, and thus would be the most qualified person to ensure compliance with Title II and III of the ADA. The Director will be responsible for the campus-wide plan for eliminating architectural barriers and reviewing construction plans.

Recommendation #5: Hire appropriate staff to provide logistical/scheduling services to students with disabilities and faculty and to provide office support.
Rationale: The staff would have responsibility for making many of the arrangements to support disability accommodations, such as scheduling alternative examinations and proctors, coordinating note-takers or interpreters, or managing adaptive technologies, as well as for such activities as processing office correspondence (especially for communicating with faculty regarding student accommodations), website maintenance, keeping records, and providing reception activities.

Recommendation #6: Assure that adequate resources are available to provide ad hoc services and equipment for accommodation of disabilities.
Accommodations require proctors, rooms, interpreters, and basic equipment such as tape recorders and Braille technologies. Significant developments in adaptive technologies have emerged over the past few years. Penn should invest in acquisition of and maintenance of appropriate technologies including software and specialized equipment. Procedures should be further developed for having proctors available and testing rooms available.

Recommendation #7: A coordinated communications strategy for disabilities information should be developed.
A comprehensive website should be developed which will provide students with service and strategic information continuously and reliably, and will also provide faculty with information regarding their responsibilities and options for accommodating students with disabilities. Information should be disseminated on a regular basis to faculty, as well as workshops offered. A "roadmap" should be developed for students as a guide to navigating the accommodations process.

Recommendation #8: Increase resources for academic support for students with disabilities.
: There is a clear commitment on the part of the Penn administration to provide comprehensive support services that go beyond what is required by law. The Tutoring and Learning Resources office provides a wide range of support for students with learning disabilities, from individual consultations to small group support services. We recommend that a Learning Instructor be hired on a full time appointment to work with students with disabilities. This will include instruction on learning and study strategies that can increase independence and self-sufficiency. This should become a permanent position within Learning Resources. A process for accessing tutors should be instituted through the Disabilities Learning Instructor, and sufficient resources should be available to hire and retain quality tutors and Learning Instructors.

Recommendation #9: Create a Provost's Advisory Committee to 1) issue a new Provost's Statement (Guidelines for Addressing Academic Issues of Students with Disabilities), 2) advise on the implementation of these Recommendations, and 3) advise on ongoing operation of an Office for Student Disabilities Services.

Recommendation #10: Appoint Disability Liaisons for each School.
: Each School should designate a disability liaison who can refer students to the Student Disabilities Service office and help address faculty questions. The disability liaison will have knowledge of the unique academic challenges of that School and how to integrate accommodations into a complex learning environment.

Recommendation #11: Revise the protocol for faculty letters
It is recommended that Student Disability Services modify its current procedure of sending out accommodation letters to faculty. The Student Disability Services office will be designated to prepare letters to faculty on behalf of the Provost. At the student's choice, accommodation letters should either be mailed to the involved faculty and copied to the student or be personally delivered to the involved faculty by the student. The letter will indicate that the student will initiate (or is initiating) an appointment with the involved faculty member to discuss the accommodations that will be necessary in each course. If the professor has additional questions, s/he may contact the Student Disability Services office for clarification or assistance. Details concerning a student's disabling condition will not be discussed without the student's permission.

Recommendation #12: Faculty Initiative
The faculty member can help normalize the accommodation process by making an announcement at the first class meeting or by voluntarily including a statement on the syllabus inviting students with disabilities to meet with the faculty member during office hours to discuss accommodation needs. The wording of the statement can vary to meet the needs of the individual class but should include the following three pieces of information:

  • An invitation to students with documented disabilities to meet, in a confidential environment, to discuss their need for academic adjustments with the faculty member and to work out the logistic of the accommodations. This discussion should lead to an understanding about how the academic adjustments will fit into the curriculum and a plan should be developed to provide the accommodations.
  • Notification that students must present requests for accommodations in a timely manner. Faculty members can require students to make accommodation requests at the beginning of the semester but need to be flexible in certain cases. Some students may be diagnosed with a disabling condition in the middle of a semester or administrative delays may impede the processing of necessary paperwork.
  • A statement encouraging students to register with the University of Pennsylvania Student Disability Services office, if they haven't done so previously, for disability verification and to determine reasonable accommodations.

Student Disability Services should work with each student to determine appropriate services and accommodations based on that individual student's functional limitations in an academic environment and the activities in which s/he will be participating. A major goal of Student Disabilities Service should be the development of self-advocacy skills for students with disabilities. Self-advocacy consists of three essential steps:

  1. A clear understanding of one's disability.
  2. An understanding of the demands of the environment and how one's disability affects functioning within the University community.
  3. The ability to communicate this information to another person so that individual needs may be met.


Providing equal access for students with disabilities is a shared University responsibility. Flexibility and a positive attitude allow for creative alternatives for students to achieve their full potential. Student Disability Services should facilitate reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, serve as a resource for faculty members to help create accessible learning environments; and provide information to the campus community to ensure the inclusion of students with disabilities in all campus activities.

The commitment of the administration of the University of Pennsylvania to ensuring the success of all Penn students clearly is evident. Most of the pieces are in place, and reorganization with the aim of removing the psychological, physical, and logistical barriers to full access for students with disabilities will have widespread benefit for all members of the Penn community.



Disabilities Services for Students Review Team Members

  • Dr. Susan Piliero (Chair), Director, Center for Learning and Teaching, Associate Professor, Department of Education (Mathematics), Cornell
  • Dr. Anthony Rostain, Director of Education, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Penn
  • Dr. Matthew Tominey, Director, Student Disability Services, Cornell
  • Dr. John Richetti, Professor of English, Penn
  • Dr. Susan M. Pliner, Assistant Dean, Student Life, Brown
  • Dr. Alice Kelley, Assistant Dean, Advising, Penn
  • Dr. Myrna Cohen (Staff for the Team), Associate Director for Learning Resources, Penn
  • Dr. Max King (Liaison for the Team), Executive Director, Office of the Vice Provost for University Life, Penn
  • Dr. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum (ex officio), Vice Provost for University Life, Penn

A note on student involvement:
Students with disabilities often prefer not to be identified publicly as having a disability. Three students (two undergraduate and one graduate) were members of the Review Team. Additionally, a Student Consulting Group of three undergraduates, one graduate, and one professional student worked closely with the Review Team. We acknowledge the valuable contributions of these students while respecting their privacy.

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 2, September 4, 2001



September 4, 2001
Volume 48 Number 2

Dr. Arthur H. Rubenstein--an accomplished physician, diabetes researcher and academic leader--is the new EVP for UPHS and dean of the School of Medicine.
Dr. Anita A. Summers, professor emeritus, is the University's new Ombudsman.
Robin H. Beck is now vice president of ISC.
The French Institute has a new director: Dr. Jean H. Gallier, professor of CIS.
The annual Undergraduate Admissions seminars for Penn families with college-bound children take place today and Thursday.
It is time to plan ahead for BEN Financials, the new way to do business at Penn.
A report to the President and Provost Concerning Services to Students with Disabilities includes a dozen recommendations.
Responding to suspicious packages and bomb scares
Some Penn researchers are studying brain injury, cancer cells, firearm violence, and software development while others are finding a new dinosaur.