College Considerations for People with Disabilities: An Interview with Troy Peterson, TCC Access Services

As we continue to further understand disabilities and those who experience them, continued education is becoming more of a reality for people who, in the past, might never have completed high school.

Going to college no longer seems out of the question, and we’re happy to see more individuals with disabilities pushing themselves and excelling in school. Organizations and companies like Microsoft are now setting aside funds for scholarships for individuals with disabilities to continue their studies in specific fields.

With this in mind, I set out to interview Troy Peterson, the Access Services & Technology Specialist at Assessment/Access Services office of Tacoma Community college. My goal was to find out more about what the steps to continue school, getting supports and accommodations in place, and any other tips or information that can help with the process. Here’s the first part of my interview with him; stay tuned to the next issue of PIPELINE for more information:

Troy, you work here in the Access Services Office at TCC, would you be able to tell me a little more about what this office does?

Troy: Specifically, the reason this office exists is because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as it applies to colleges and universities, is primarily a non-discrimination law. Primarily it says, “Don’t discriminate.” Why we’re here is to prevent that discrimination from taking place, or to try to reduce it at the very least. Unfortunately, discrimination, from my perspective, isn’t something that we’ll ever get away from or get rid of as long as we’re human, but we definitely do our best.

For those looking at continuing their education after high school, when would be a good time to start researching schools like colleges and other learning opportunities?

Troy: Start as early as possible if you’re coming from high school, because what you do in high school is completely different from what you do in College, for the most part. The really big thing is that it’s a real big fundamental philosophy difference between the two; high schools and higher education. High schools are generally based on principles of normalization, thought up by [a gentleman] by the name of Wolfensberger way back in 1971. But, the shorter part of it is that [schools became] based on the principles of normalization, that’s all part of trying to get students to learn as “normal” as possible. And so the goal is “become normal”, whatever “normal” is… and that’s a completely different philosophy from here. Here, we don’t care how you do it as long as you do it. That’s kind of our philosophy here at TCC. There, it’s you have to do things the “normal way”.  Sometimes there’s a lot of difference between the “normal way” and what might be the best way for any particular student. So, trying to figure out what the best way is may take time, and there’s all kinds of other stuff that might take time, money, and perseverance to get. And if you’re trying to show up for school the very first day, that might not happen.

For somebody in their sophomore year of high school then, might that be too early to start researching schools and services?

Troy: No, no! If you’re in grade school you can come talk to me, as far as ME goes. Unfortunately, everything is very different between each one of these institutions. So, me, I’m always willing to talk to anybody. Now, that’s different from some of these institutions. Some of them have policies where a prospective student would submit their paperwork first, their paperwork would be evaluated, and by then the person who’s in my seat would have already made the determinations about what kind of accommodations would be reasonable. Then they would call [the prospective student] in for the intake interview, where they would be provided with that information, and then there would be possibly a follow up interview after that. But seriously, [some schools] wouldn’t even see them until after they’ve already submitted their paperwork and been accepted as a student, and gotten all their stuff.

Now, is that more the case for larger state schools, or is this also talking about other community colleges too?

Troy: This can be the case in community colleges as well. Well, there’s a lot of pressures on an office like this. So, for instance, some of the things that we deal with that some people don’t want to deal with are the “helicopter mothers”. So some places don’t want to deal with them, and legally they don’t have to. So while they don’t have to talk to somebody’s mother, I’m always willing to talk to anybody that the student brings, but a lot of these people [in Access Services at other schools] don’t want to because it’s sometimes not fun. Sometimes, the mother can walk in the door and all they see is red, and nothing you say or do is going to change them. And that’s stressful, but it’s something that we’re willing to do here at TCC that not everybody is.

[…to be continued next edition of PIPELINE]

In the next edition of PIPELINE Troy discusses what the typical pathway looks like for a student with a disability!

UW Tacoma photo by Scott Hingst via flickr