Requests for disability accommodations up at WSU

A female student showing signs of stress while seated at a desk in a library.
An increase in requests for accommodations at WSU this fall is mostly due to students with "invisible disabilities" such as anxiety and depression. Accommodations in those cases often seek to add flexibility to traditional learning environments.

The number of Washington State University students requesting accommodation for disabilities is about 25% higher this fall compared with a year ago.

Most of the requested accommodations are for what student-support specialists call “invisible disabilities,” such as anxiety and depression. 

That should come as no surprise. College students’ mental health was worsening even before the pandemic and the American Psychological Association said students were “in crisis” by 2021. Students are stressed emotionally and often financially, even as they navigate typical college challenges like coursework, friendships, and living arrangements.

Access Centers provide accommodations and services to students with disabilities on every WSU campus, including the online Global Campus. Specialists at the centers say serving more students can be positive.

“There’s more awareness about what we provide to our students,” said Rob Morales, associate director of student services at the Access Center on the Pullman campus. Also, “this population of students is more vocal about the support they need and advocating for themselves. We’re seeing students come in saying, ‘I know I’m struggling and I need assistance.’”

Eric Scott, director of student development at WSU Vancouver and manager of the Access Center, said another factor in the increase in accommodations could be a shift from the style of learning that took place during the pandemic — flexible, remote, and available at any time — that can be helpful to students who have anxiety or depression.

Accommodations for those students often add flexibility to more structured, traditional learning environments. For example, a student might need flexible course attendance, or more time for assignments and tests. They might need to record lectures, or to be given a quiet space to take an exam. In any case, accommodations begin with medical documentation of a student’s disability. 

WSU’s Access Centers also work with faculty, through trainings and one-on-one consultations. The centers have two goals: student accommodations and making sure course objectives are being met.

“Access is everyone’s responsibility, and I believe everyone is trying to play their part in the process,” Morales said. “We’re here to support the student, but also here to support the curriculum students are engaging with.” 

Both Morales and Scott said students can work with the Access Centers at any time, not just at the start of semesters. But they encourage students not to wait, trying to get by on their own and struggling. 

As more students recognize their needs and take action to meet those needs, the work of the Access Centers will expand, they added. 

Scott said the most important thing the Access Centers can do is make sure student mental health “is an open conversation, and part of our campus culture that we can talk about it.” 

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