Temple University

Posted on December 1, 2010

Meeting the Growing Needs of Students with Disabilities

Temple University, located in the heart of Philadelphia, serves a large population of students with disabilities who have received more than $1 million in Newcombe Scholarships since 1981. To its credit, Temple’s Department of Disability Resources and Services continues to seek partners to develop endowments that provide additional support for students with disabilities. Recently, the family of the late Joshua Winheld ’09, a student with a disability and a Newcombe Scholar, committed $100,000 to Temple to establish an endowment in Josh’s memory to support Temple students with physical disabilities. The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation has committed to match this gift over a five-year period and celebrates its continuing partnership with Temple in serving these students.

With the population of students with disabilities on the rise both nationwide and at Temple, the university’s Department of Disability Resources and Services (DRS) has launched or significantly enhanced a sweeping range of initiatives to help students with disabilities get equal access to the best that a Temple education has to offer.

Among the expanded or new programs offered by DRS is the Federal Workforce Recruitment Program, a partnership with the federal government that has helped hundreds of Temple students with disabilities find paid internships with federal employers around the nation since its launch at Temple in 1996. Participation in this program by students with disabilities with demonstrated financial need has been supported by Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarships. Also, Access TU, a DRS-faculty-student partnership, uses a web-based video to help students discuss their disability with instructors. Finally, Project EDIT, a Verizon Foundation-funded program, brings together a group of fifteen top Temple faculty members to explore ways to develop more inclusive teaching practices that support all students, especially students with disabilities.

“We’re not just about legal compliance,” said DRS Director John Bennett. “We’re about enabling success by building the whole student and helping them manage the challenges of being independent – often for the first time in their lives.”

Finding employment is a more persistent challenge for students with disabilities, who still face stubborn negative stereotypes about on-the-job performance. “It’s hard enough getting good internships,” Bennett said. “Got a disability label on your back, it’s even harder.”

To help meet the need, Temple has expanded its participation in the Federal Workforce Recruitment Program, a comprehensive job-preparation program that has placed students with disabilities in summer internships in a breathtaking range of federal agencies at locations from coast to coast: the Coast Guard, NASA, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Park Service and more. In 2009-10, thirty-five Temple students were interviewed by federal recruiters, up from ten interviews in 2008-09. For 2010-11, says Bennett, ninety-six students were selected for interviews and some have already received offers of internships for next summer. At each step of the process, participating Temple students learn critical life and job skills: the art of interviewing, managing travel and commuting, purchasing a work wardrobe and more – with Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation awards helping to defray many expenses, such as purchasing business attire, covering transportation costs, and paying for personal assistance, when necessary. “My internship has given me the opportunity to work in a field directly related to my area of study,” said senior Kenneth Carter, a mechanical engineering major from Philadelphia who helped track weather satellites at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Virginia this summer. “Without FWRP, I don’t know if this would be possible.” Carter’s travel expenses, which weren’t covered by public disability agencies or other financial resources, were paid for using funds he received by successfully applying for a Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation scholarship. “Applying for scholarships and awards is part of the process,” said Bennett. “That’s a life skill. These students have to learn how to navigate the bureaucracy and advocate for themselves throughout their lives.”

emple University student, Christopher Ludwig
Another Temple University student, Christopher Ludwig, was one of five students nationwide who received the 2010 Judith C. Gilliom Award for making an outstanding contribution in his internship with the Federal Workforce Recruitment Program at the Department of Defense-Logistics Agency in Northeast Philadelphia. “This internship was a great experience that opened my eyes to working for the federal government,” said Christopher.

Project Access TU (Temple University), a collaborative research partnership between the Special Education Program in the College of Education and Disability Resources and Services, developed and assessed the effectiveness of a web based video intervention program to teach students with disabilities how to request academic accommodations of their instructors. Many students lack important self-advocacy skills and consequently struggle to maintain passing grades, becoming more prone to failure than students without disabilities. Access TU features video units with students from Temple who describe and demonstrate effective self-advocacy strategies. In the units, students discuss the legal rights of individuals with disabilities, critical aspects of how to disclose a disability, how to request an appropriate accommodation, and how to use effective communication strategies with their instructors. All incoming freshmen, transfer, and returning students with disabilities who have enrolled in DRS have access to the video via Blackboard. The videos, which are eighteen minutes long, will be available on Disability Resources & Services’ new website due to be launched mid December 2010 at www.temple.edu/disability.

Project EDIT is an innovative pilot program that assists university faculty who are generally familiar with the need to accommodate the particular educational requirements of students with documented disabilities, but who are less commonly aware of the possibilities and benefits of accommodating the variety of needs, preferences, and other characteristics presented by the diverse array of learners found in any given Temple classroom. Attention to the multiple dimensions of that diversity encourages educators to go beyond efforts at individual accommodation alone to create a learning environment that is accessible and engaging for every student. In an effort to enhance learning for all Temple students, Project EDIT brought together fifteen Temple faculty members who are enthusiastic about excellence in teaching and learning and passionate about both meeting the learning needs of all their students and taking advantage of the full range of diversity in those students’ abilities, backgrounds and experiences. As a result of this collaboration, Project EDIT:

  • Offers faculty a broad understanding of the diversity that exists in their classrooms and enables them to recognize disability as one aspect of this exciting diversity.
  • Provides specialist training and support in the inclusion of the diverse range of learners in Temple’s classrooms to faculty who participate in the training.
  • Embeds the philosophy and practice of inclusion in the process of course design, teaching and assessment.

For the 1,100 students with disabilities (just under 3% of the total student enrollment) who are enrolled in Disability Resources and Services at Temple University, programs such as these open a path to academic achievement and a successful career. The academic performance of students with disabilities is on par with their non-disabled peers, according to John Bennett, and Temple students with disabilities have been finalists for prestigious academic scholarships and awards – including the Rhodes Scholarship – in recent years.

For further information, please visit Temple’s web site.

The results of seeking help: a success story

For students with disabilities, one of the most daunting obstacles to success can be taking the first step and walking into the Department of Disability Resources and Services – an often uncomfortably public acknowledgement of one’s disability that requires a great deal of courage. One Temple student, Christopher Ludwig, speaks of his experience. To read more, click here.