By Susan DiPietro, Communications & Training Coordinator
Five Questions is a regular feature in which we interview a College of Online and Continuing Education staff member. In this issue we talked with Online Accessibility Center Accommodations Specialist Seth Matthews.
(The Online Accessibility Center also assists non-disabled students, such as active-duty military, who need assistance with accessing resources.)
1. What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the students that we work with in the Online Accessibility Center. Every one of these students is dealing with an additional challenge on top of the daily challenges all of our students face. They are thriving and doing a great job. They are motivated and dedicated, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s actually very inspirational.
2. What do you find most challenging?
The most challenging part of my job is working with students who have had success in the past and have acquired an illness or a disability that makes it difficult for them to be successful in their education. It’s very difficult, for instance, to listen to a student who is an Iraqi war veteran who has acquired a traumatic brain injury and was a 4.0 student in the past, and now struggles. Again, it’s inspirational because they are still doing it, but they struggle and your heart goes out to them.
3. What makes you look back at the end of the day and say that was a good day?
The best days are the ones where we are presented with a challenge and at the end of the day we are able to say we found a way for this student to continue their education. We have a great collaborative team, and we are able to bring in everyone from deans to advisors to a specific technology team, and it’s very rare that we walk out of the room without a solution.
4. Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
I think I would like readers to know that we are here. When advisors, instructors or admissions personnel are engaging with a student that’s presenting them with an issue related to an illness or disability, even if it’s short-term, we don’t always get brought in. We want to, and we need to be included.
Many people still think about disability as the symbol of the person in the wheelchair on the outside of a restroom, whereas what we do goes so far beyond that. The highest percentage of the students that we work with are students with mental illness and learning differences. Not everyone thinks about an anxiety disorder, or a learning disorder as something that would be referred to us.
5. What types of resources would you offer someone with a learning disorder?
It is highly individualized and we want the input of the student. We want them to tell us what’s worked for them in the past, and what challenges they are running into. We offer deadline extensions for students with certain profiles, or if a student is not able to access an online book, we may buy them a print copy.
We also have a resource that is available to all students, which is called Read and Write. It has a read aloud function so students that are blind, or just cannot sit in front a computer monitor for a long period of time, can listen to their course material.