November 16, 2009
09-199

Kate Elliot
Communications Specialist

Access Office Director Named 'Agent of Change'

VALDOSTA -- Dr. Kimberly Tanner, director of the Access Office for Students with Disabilities, has joined a nationwide team of disability service providers committed to reframing traditional views of accessibility. The three-year project -- funded by the U.S. Department of Education -- aims to develop more inclusive environments and curriculum for all rather than “special features for a few.”

“A lot of the accommodations we provide -- note taking services and captioning -- can be helpful to a wide range of students, whether they are disabled or not,” said Tanner, who has worked at the university for 13 years. “The current system singles disabled people out by having them come to our office, when we could take steps to make the campus and services more accessible.”

Tanner and 24 fellow post-secondary disability service providers attended a weeklong institute in early August to familiarize themselves with the tenants of Project ShIFT (Shaping Inclusion through Foundational Transformation). The grant, headed by Lane Community College in Oregon, evolved from a desire for service providers to reexamine (align) their outlooks in accordance with the latest accommodation methods and accessibility theories.

“Sometimes we as service providers get so caught up in the day-to-day tasks of ensuring students have access, we don’t have time to consider our processes and whether they alignwith the spirit of access for all,” Tanner said. “If service providers were able to focus time and energy on making the campus and its programs accessible to all, no one would ever have to come to our offices because students wouldn’t have problems getting around and participating in campus life.”

The project is broken into three, yearlong stages. Tanner and other service providers will spend this year assessing policies and practices to create action plans that weave progressive accessibility theories into common practice. Next year, each university will send one faculty member to accompany service providers to another weeklong institute. Tanner and the chosen faculty member will collaborate to develop accessible curriculum and teaching strategies that they can present to the entire campus. The third year is one of support for project participants as they relate progress back to project organizers, who offer technical assistance and other guidance materials.

Dr. Louis Levy, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, committed the university to engage in the project, which will identify opportunities for increased inclusion and encourage faculty to engage in such practices. He said results from the study will enhance VSU’s impact on the region and attention to all students.

“Project ShIFT is a unique opportunity for Valdosta State University to expand its reach, to assess its inclusiveness, and to continue to attract the best and the brightest students,” Levy said. Dr. Kimberly Tanner has always been a campus leader, and the ShIFT Project will benefit greatly from her talents, her values and her enthusiasm.”

Tanner said she and her office are in the process of streamlining services and educating the campus that the burden should be on the environment to adjust rather than the student. She is eager to collaborate with faculty and staff in adapting procedures and reframing the culture at VSU. The institution, Tanner said, has developed a reputation for positive change in regards to access -- a distinction that largely comes from the Access Office acting as a resource rather than a regulator.

“The Access Office has worked very hard as a team to dispel the myths that we are the “ADA Police,”’ Tanner said. “We work very collaboratively with departments on campus rather than dictating what it is that needs to be done to avoid any legal backlash. This approach seems to work better and it certainly makes the job more enjoyable.”

For more information about Project ShIFT, go to www.lanecc.edu/disability/shiftgrant.htm