three photos, left to right: male standing, female holding books, male in wheelchair

Around Campus|

icon of a calendarAugust 5th, 2019

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn


OU’s specialized disability support services help students succeed

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Jump to student story: Brian Davey | Lauren Denson | Robbie Ivey

Photo of Brian DaveyBrian Davey says he chose to attend OU because it’s a great school and it was close to his home. But what he didn’t expect was that he would find what he describes as “a second family” on campus.

Davey refers to the close, supportive relationships he’s developed with staff in OU’s Disability Support Services (DSS) office. He has Asperger syndrome, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and dyscalculia. Since arriving at OU, he’s received DSS assistance aimed at making classes and tests more comfortable for him by creating either quieter or more isolated experiences.

That’s just one example of the many specialized services DSS’ three full-time staff and many student employees provide for OU students with disabilities. DSS Director Sarah Guadalupe says other services range from note-taking to technological accommodations for students with disabilities.

“We develop an individualized accommodation plan for each student to make sure they’re provided the same access as other students,” Guadalupe says.

Having received no support for his disabilities at the first high school he attended, Davey says he’s realized he’s “happier and I feel more okay with myself” when supportive services are available. But the DSS office itself has also provided him with a place he can feel safe and supported at school. He describes DSS administrative assistant Lori Szarama as his “school mom,” offering him support when he has “issues that I just want to talk out.”

“DSS is a great place to be,” Davey says. “Everyone here is just fantastic and they make me feel like I belong somewhere. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I’d be today.”

Guadalupe says creating that kind of “confidence and connection” is key to DSS’ work. “We know our students,” she says. “We know them by name. It’s about building those positive relationships to do whatever we can to help them be successful.”

Davey is set to graduate with his bachelor’s in creative writing this December. He says he hopes to build a career writing books, continuing to develop his successful YouTube channel, and potentially working for a videogame company.

“I just think I made the right choice to go to OU,” he says. “It’s definitely been a great time here. I don’t regret coming here.”

“A real success story” 

Photo of Lauren DensonWhen Lauren Denson was wrapping up high school, her school counselor encouraged her to seek assistance in college for her learning disability.

“She told me there’s nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it,” says the St. Clair Shores resident, a junior in OU’s psychology program.

Following that advice, Denson has benefited greatly from DSS’ supportive services. Denson says she originally chose OU because of how “welcoming” it felt when she toured the campus

during her senior year of high school. She was pleased when she began school to find ample support available for her learning disability, which can affect her writing skills and her reading comprehension.

“It takes a little time for me to learn things,” she says. “When I go in the classroom it takes me out of my focus.”

So, a few times a week Denson visits Oakland’s Writing Center, Tutoring Center, or consults with an academic peer mentor for help. She says the staff help her to understand unfamiliar words in her reading, or help proofread her papers. She recalls one occasion when she had a particularly important paper due, and she “wanted to make sure it was really good.” Although she’d already asked two people to proofread it, she took it to the Writing Center as well.

The result?

“I got a 90,” she says proudly.

Guadalupe describes Denson as “a real success story of how students use our services.” After changing majors three times, Denson has settled into her psychology major and is planning to

apply for grad school at OU.

“I really wanted to know how the mind works and why certain people do the certain things they do,” she says. “I want to help people, mostly adolescents, children and families.”

“Above and beyond”

When Robbie Ivey was 12, a severe form of muscular dystrophy began weakening his muscles, leaving him unable to perform simple tasks like turning on lights or changing the TV channel. At age 17, Ivey’s life changed again for the better when retired tech worker Bill Weis helped Ivey’s family develop a voice-activated system that could accomplish those tasks and more for him.

“It’s a game-changer,” Ivey says of the system, which uses both Google Home and Alexa. “It allows me to do most things that everybody else can.”

But just shortly after the system restored much of Ivey’s independence in his parents’ Iron River home, it was time for him to move away to college. Ivey chose to attend OU in part because his sister also attends the school and could serve as his caretaker, and partly because he could pursue his dream of studying sports management. However, he needed special accommodations to make voice-activated tasks possible on campus, including a dedicated dorm room and the installation of a high-speed router.

Fortunately, Ivey says DSS and OU’s Housing and University Technology Services departments made the transition “pretty much flawless.”

“The school was really accommodating to everything we needed,” he says. “Bill was able to quickly and easily set up the system in a couple of days down here.”

Ivey says OU has also gone “above and beyond” in supporting him outside his dorm room as well, including providing services that allow him to confidentially communicate test answers to a proctor.

“Anything I needed, it was there,” he says. “OU has been pretty awesome in helping me out.”

Ivey is currently making his way through his general education courses and looking forward to tackling his sports management studies. A football and baseball fanatic, he says his dream job

would be general manager of the Green Bay Packers. Although he says the prospect of going to college was at first “a little bit intimidating,” his experience so far has been very positive.

“Having family close and being able to learn the ropes so quickly, it wasn’t so bad,” he says.

Because of OU’s dedicated faculty and staff, accommodating resources, and specialized support services, students like Ivey, Denson and Davey can have a fulfilling, successful college experience.

“All students deserve to have the same access to learning and campus life,” Guadalupe says. “Oakland provides that for students with disabilities, regardless of the amount of support needed, so they can have the confidence they need to succeed.”

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