From teenagers fresh out of high school who, despite a range of learning disabilities, are determined to get their college education, to students who have difficulty seeing or hearing, to the man in his 90s who wanted to learn English to communicate with his grandson, Imperial Valley College's Disabled Students Programs and Services serves them all.
Located in the Mel Wendrick Access Center Building (2100), this program reaches out to all students at the college who need help with supportive services. These include helping those whose impairments include mobility, visual, hearing, speech and orthopedics, as well as those who are learning disabled, psychologically disabled, or who have an acquired brain injury. It is the department's goal to offer the same opportunities of success to disabled students as are offered to those without disabilities.
"The program provides services and accommodations to students who have a disability — classes, sports, class-sponsored activities the student wants to get involved in," said DSP&S Director Norma Nava.
Among services provided are help with reading, where issues such as dyslexia interrupt the brain's ability to process the written word, or even math in a learning disorder known as dyscalculia. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing have access to interpreters trained in American Sign Language, and blind students benefit from software that translates text into Braille, which is then printed with a Braille embosser.
And, in collaboration with Imperial County Behavioral Health Services, two counselors are available to work with those with mental health issues, including military veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The counselors help those with mental health issues connect with us and return to school with a goal of getting an education," said Nava, who said the need for such services is increasing rapidly.
Some students avoid seeking DSP&S assistance, though, because of the stigma they feel is associated with needing it, Nava said.
"How do you reach those who are reluctant to come?" Nava asked. "We tell them they're in a regular class, like anyone else. They can utilize our services, without disclosure."
The college takes pride in that its DSP&S program was the first in California, thanks to the man for whom the center is named, Mel Wendrick.
"Every California Community College has a DSP&S program because of Mel Wendrick and Gov. (Jerry) Brown," said Lovitt.
Wendrick, who died in 2010 at the age of 80, fought on behalf of disabled students to ensure their rights to higher education, including founding the DSP&S at the college, the first of its kind in the state.
To participate in many of the services, students must have a verified disability, from a specialist or school psychologist, Nava said. The verification must identify the student's specific disability as well as the educational limits that result from this disability.
Much of the help available is high-tech, and the department has a specialist, Paige Lovitt, to oversee those services.
The High Tech Center computer lab in DSP&S is available to every student, Lovitt said. "It's for students who need specialized software, any student — including learning disabled, English as a Second Language students, blind students." The software is sophisticated and state-of-the-art. Some programs convert text in a book or homework to electronic text so students who need to can better hear or see and understand it onscreen.
A Transition Fair in early spring helps the department share its programs to all high school juniors and seniors in Special Education or needing assistance. It features a presentation and tour of the campus, as well as 35-40 booths offering information about community resources such as Center for Employment Training and Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program, Nava said. "There are many booths and agencies that provide services to help students determine what's next after high school, what services and programs are available to help them pursue their goals."
Lovitt said the Transition Fair "is a good place to learn what services are available. We target high school students, but the community is welcome."
"More students are graduating and transitioning to higher education than before," Nava said, "and it's because they're seeing it as a possibility."
"For me, I love working in this department because I see some of the challenges our students have," Nava said. "To see them reach their goal, to see them walk across the stage or get their certificate, that's exciting."
Currently there are five American Sign Language interpreters to facilitate communication for deaf and hard-of-hearing students at Imperial Valley College, said Liisa Mendoza, a full-time faculty member who teaches American Sign Language. IVC offers courses that involve learning ASL, understanding the deaf culture, fingerspelling and numbers, and interpreting spoken English into ASL for the deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Mendoza trains, evaluates and schedules the interpreters, but the goal is to recruit and train more interpreters to provide communication access in classrooms, clubs and campus activities.
Training is intensive and involves taking five semesters of ASL at IVC as well as continuing on into interpreter training, but the pay is good, said Mendoza. Interpreters' pay at the college can range from $14 to $35 an hour, she said.
Mendoza, who travels daily to Imperial from Palm Desert, said the program is "so much more developed than where I've taught before. We're in the process of trying to establish a certificate in ASL." Hopefully, then students will have assurance of going to higher levels of employment. Interpreting pays a very decent wage. At IVC that ranges from $14 to $35 per hour.