Growing up with a bilateral hearing loss, I struggled to feel like I fit in with my peers while still making sure I was receiving the academic accommodations I needed. I regularly met with a speech therapist all through primary school and continued to meet periodically through secondary school to make sure I was staying on par with my peers and receiving the accommodations I needed. Still as a child and preteen, I would sometimes neglect to speak up for myself in fears of drawing unwanted attention to my disability.
As I grew older, I learned the importance of self advocating for when I wasn’t able to understand instructions, or when I felt like I needed additional accommodations. Over the yearsI have used a number of different resources, such as FMs (a type of assistive hearing device) and assigned seating, and found out which accommodations do, and do not, work well for me.
After accepting my offer to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I filled out an application to register my hearing loss with Disability Services, and by mid June I was notified that I was qualified as a student with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA serves two major functions here at UMass Amherst, it protects me from discrimination on the basis of disability, and allows me to request academic and campus life accommodations.
Over the summer before my freshman year I met with one of UMass Amherst’s disabilities consumer managers to discuss accommodations for the fall semester, which allowed me to form a connection to Disability Services before the academic school year even started. Speaking with Disability Services, I was made aware of the different accommodations offered by UMass Amherst, and developed a list of requests that I felt would best suit me for the fall semester.
For my first semester I chose to have notetakers for each of my classes, as many were large, lecture style classes. This allowed me to rest assured knowing that if I was to miss some content, the key points would always be covered for me through my notetaker. The note takers are student volunteers, who take good notes and receive compensation such as credit or money for sharing their notes. The system was completely anonymous, allowing both my notetaker and I to remain unaware of each other's identity. Within 24 hours after every class session, my note takers would upload their notes to a system called Clockwork, an online student services page managed by Disability Services. On Clockwork, I was able to access accommodations that pertained to me, which included my notes, as well as schedule an appointment with Disability Services, and request additional accommodations.
Second semester I ended up requesting note takers online through Clockwork for the classes I felt I needed notes for. The process was super simple, and gave me control over choosing which classes I felt I needed notes in and which I didn't.
One particularly helpful thing I did towards the beginning of each semester was get to my classes early to scope out the layout and find seating which worked best for me. I’d recommend getting to classes early especially at the beginning, regardless of your accommodations, because it’s a great way for anyone to get a feel for the room and makes a good first impression.
Some other accommodations that were offered to me if needed, were extra time on tests in separate rooms for those with accommodations, as well as the option to request an FM system. I also could request accommodations throughout the semester if I felt I needed them, and Disability Services made me feel like I could go to them at any point of the semester if issues arose.
For those with accommodations affecting their housing, Residential Life also works closely with Disability Services to give students who need accommodations housing priority. As someone with a severe hearing loss, one accommodation I needed was a special fire alarm system in my dorm room which would flash when the fire alarm went off; something that was important in case I had hearing aids out and couldn't hear the alarm. My freshman year I was in the Isenberg Fellows Residential Academic Program (RAP), so my assignment was already predetermined earlier on. Residential Life was super accommodating, going through the effort of installing a new system for me, as none of the designated RAP rooms already had one in place. For this upcoming school year, I chose to request a single through Disability Services, and was given housing priority. Once again, Residential Life was super accommodating, and let me know that if the room I chose wasn’t already properly equipped they’d make sure to equip it before I arrived on campus for the upcoming school year.
Here at UMass Amherst, Disability Services has really taken the time to make sure I have everything I need to be on par with my peers and find the accommodations that I need due to my hearing loss. Coming to a large school, I worried that I wasn’t going to have the same level of intensive care that I saw in high school with my hearing loss, but this definitely wasn’t the case. I feel that I have just as many resources, if not more here at UMass Amherst, than I did in high school and know that I’m only an email or phone call away from Disability Services when I need them.