Daniel Weigel, Ph.D., LPC/LCPC, CRAADC, NCC, CCMHC, MAC, ACS, joined Avila University as Director of the Student Access Office in August 2019. The Student Access Office has a mission “to encourage individuals to develop their unique potential by providing services and programs in a supportive environment,” with a primary goal of promoting “an environment at Avila that is physically and attitudinally barrier free.” Learn more about how Daniel helps Avila make education available to all.
What do you do in your role as Director of the Student Access Office? What does accessibility entail within higher education?
As Director of the Student Access Office, I seek to provide current and prospective students who are living with disabilities with equitable access to all learning and co-curricular activities offered at Avila University.
The Student Access Office views disability as an important aspect of diversity and is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities to students with documented disabilities. Some examples of these disabilities include mental health, attentional, learning, chronic health, sensory, physical and others.
These efforts are completed to ensure that the rights of students with disabilities are upheld and to comply with federal requirements regarding educational accessibility.
Our main goal is to provide a safe and confidential setting wherein students can discuss any educational barriers they are facing due to confirmed or potential disability issues so we can carefully review accommodation strategies to remove such barriers as much as possible.
What resources does Avila offer its students, faculty and staff from an accessibility perspective?
Avila offers a variety of reasonable accommodations established to meet the unique needs of each student seeking assistance. We provide secure and quiet testing areas for students. We also help connect students with a variety of assistive technologies and other reasonable accommodations—including alternative textbooks, closed-captioning on videos, accessible documents for text-to-speech readers—to provide equitable access to class learning.
Faculty and staff receive assistance with disability-related accommodations through the Human Resources Office at Avila.
Physical accessibility on campus is reviewed and upgraded regularly and our Student Access Committee, representing numerous individuals and offices on campus, discusses these issues on a regular basis. We also work with and provide referrals to other helpful resources on campus such as Counseling and Career Services, Campus Ministry, tutoring and student organizations of interest.
The onset of COVID-19 changed higher education, especially for smaller schools like Avila that emphasize small classrooms and personalized instruction. How is Avila adjusting and what changes do you foresee from an accessibility perspective?
The transition from face-to-face to online learning has been surprisingly challenging for almost everyone. Overall, I think we have, for the most part, been able to adjust well to the unique and important demands placed upon us by the pandemic.
Unfortunately, this transition has been extraordinarily difficult for some students with disabilities. Many reasonable accommodations previously established for students learning in a face-to-face classroom required modifications to meet the requirements of online learning. This has required a great deal of flexibility and individualized consideration as we work with our students to find solutions to unanticipated barriers caused by this health crisis.
Positively, the remote nature of many of our current communications have and will make it easier to reach students with geographic, transportation or mobility limitations. We are also creating long-term changes to our records management system to become as paperless and secure as possible.
That said, it will be very nice to meet with our students face-to-face when possible once we are back on campus. As always, Student Access is here!