Chinks in the Student Armor

After years of being 10-foot-tall and bullet proof as members of the US military, many of us struggle with admitting or letting anyone else see the chinks in our metaphorical armor. This mindset continues when we transition back into civilian life as veterans.

We will reply with “I’m fine” when really, we are not fine. Myself, I often fall into the thought of “there’s someone else who needs your help more than I do.” Other times I just do not want to admit I might have a limitation. As a returning non-traditional student, this mindset can lead to critical academic supports not being requested or implemented in the classroom. In particular, services available through the institution’s Student Disability Support Services office are often skipped completely by student veterans.  Read on to learn how the Disability Support Services program can help all students succeed in the classroom.

The STRIPES-VUB office recommends starting the process with Disability Support Services (DSS) shortly after receiving your notice of acceptance and several months before the start of the semester. This will allow you to have the supports needed for academic success in the classroom on day 1. The request for accommodations can be started at any time before or during the semester. A few things to note as an adult student. First the process must be initiated by you the student, no one else can do this for you. Faculty and staff are not required to apply accommodations retroactively. Any approved accommodations are implemented from the time of approval and notification forward. This is a time when it is best to be forward thinking and start before an academic crisis occurs.

Most DSS programs will require you to provide some medical documentation with your diagnosis to verify you meet criteria. The list of conditions and potential academic accommodations that can be considered is extensive and long. The impact of your conditions and prescribed treatments have on your academic functioning will be unique for you.  Bottom line, do not become and an expert and self-determine your eligibility or potential accommodations. Be upfront and honest with your DSS case manager. This is the person to share those chinks in the armor and together come up with a plan to reinforce the.  All information you share is protected and will never be released without your permission, you are in control of what and how much information is shared. The institution you attend has hired professional experts to determine if you meet criteria and accommodations that can help you succeed in the classroom. The first step is to schedule an appointment with DSS and let the experts help you.

The American with Disabilities Act requires that institutions provide effective accommodations so all individuals have access. These accommodations are determined on a case by case basis and individualized for your needs. You will meet with a DSS staff member to discuss how your condition impacts your cognitive functioning capabilities. The results of the discussion will determine what accommodations you need as a student to level the academic playing field. At the conclusion of the interview, you will be provided a document noting the approved accommodations for your success. For example, migraines, a common veteran diagnosis, often impacts cognitive functioning capabilities in a variety of ways. Individual approved accommodations for migraines could be extended test time, use of light blocking glasses, paper only exams, increased excused absences, etc. The impact of hearing loss on your auditory processing may require an accommodation for reserved classroom seating, use of recording devices, being provided written lectures, etc.Keep in mind, it is common for two students with the same diagnosis receive very different accommodation letters.

Similar to the requirement that the student must initiate a request for accommodations, it is your decision and responsibility to notify your professors that you have accommodations as a student. This process varies some at each campus; some use an online notification system and others require the student to provide a printed copy of the DSS accommodation letter to each professor. Talk with your DSS office to make sure you understand the process. Once you have notified the professor and provided the documentation, professors are required to meet the request from that point moving forward. You should be in the drivers seat of your academic career, go a step further and schedule an office visit with each of your professors. They may have additional support ideas to help get you to the end of class with success. As mentioned earlier, this is not a retroactive event. If half way into the semester you realize you really did need that extended test time, the professor is not required to allow you to retake tests that occurred before the letter was provided. Most professors are very accommodating and want their students to succeed.Taking a few minutes to talk with your professors early on and on a regular basis can go a long way to creating student confidence. Occasionally, there is a conflict in receiving your accommodations in the classroom. If this occurs notify your DSS office immediately. The earlier the conflict is resolved, the faster a solution can be found and you can return to focusing on learning the material.

Lastly, your talks with the DSS office should be an ongoing part of your student life. As you become a more experienced student you will likely discover additional accommodation needs. After all, sometimes you don’t know; what you don’t know until you are in the classroom. My best advice when it comes to your student accommodation needs; do not wait! Do not wait to make the first appointment, provide the accommodation notice to your professors, or notify DSS when a agreed accommodation is not effective. You are ultimately responsible for your success and accessing all available student supports. DSS academic accommodations are one area that you can utilize to help reinforce one of the chinks in your student armor. If you would like assistance requesting or learning more about DSS services at your institution from STRIPES-VUB program,