Special Assistance Program at UC Berkeley
By Ryan Lillis, September 5, 2004 09:49 AM
Sees Rise in Psychologically Disabled
BERKELEY -- The number of students with psychiatric or psychological disabilities who enrolled in the Disabled Students Program at the University of California, Berkeley, has grown steadily over the past eight years, statistics show. For a program that pioneered the equal rights movement for disabled students and provides a wide range of services to them, the influx marks another chapter in a history of innovation.
According to statistics provided by program director Ed Rogers, the number of students with psychiatric or psychological disabilities who sought help from the program grew from 50 during the 1996-1997 school year to 159 in 2002-2003, the last year for which detailed statistics are available. Meanwhile, the total number of students enrolled in the program has remained steady, from 888 in 1997 to an estimated 900 this year, Rogers said.
The program helps students with psychological disabilities such as Tourette's Syndrome find separate studying and testing facilities, and can offer them assistive technology as well. Tourette's is the most common form of psychological disability seen by the program, Rogers said.
"We're not talking about kids who just need Prozac," Rogers said. "These are people who in the real world would be considered to have a severe disability."
The increase is consistent with the general population, Rogers said. Although concrete statistics for people with Tourette's and other psychological disabilities are hard to find, a report by Dr. Virgilio Gerald H. Evidente of the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale in Arizona said the syndrome afflicts 10 out of every 10,000 Americans. Tourette's is characterized by tics, sometimes severe enough to impair breathing, swallowing and speech. Symptoms disappear by the age of 18 in 75 percent of all cases, Evidente wrote, and causes include infections, such as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, and exposure to carbon monoxide.
While the number of students at Berkeley with psychological disabilities has grown, the amount of students with learning disabilities has dropped sharply, from 410 in 1996 to 184 in 2003, statistics show. Students with Attention Deficit Disorder have increased from 46 in 1996 to 121 in 2003, while those with mobility needs has remained steady at around 100 students each year.
"This program is about trying to be innovative," Rogers said from his office on the second floor of the Cesar E. Chavez Student Center, taking a break from the busiest time of the year – the beginning of fall semester. As of Friday, the program had enrolled 128 new students. "The more innovative we can be, the less services the students will require."
In 1962, several years before Berkeley became widely famous as a center of student activism, a wheelchair-bound man named Ed Roberts applied for admission and was accepted, starting the school's history as the pioneer of equal rights for the disabled. Roberts had contracted polio when he was 14 and used a wheelchair from then on. Upon his enrollment he moved into an on-campus hospital, where a second disabled student joined him the following year.
By the end of the 1960s, a dozen students lived in the facility, hiring their own personal care attendants. In 1970, a group named "The Rolling Quads" secured an $80,000 grant from the federal Department of Education and the office of the Physically Disabled Students Program was formed.
In 1982 the program expanded to take in students with learning disabilities and dropped the word "physically" from its name. By the mid-1980s, 360 students were enrolled.
"We are about empowerment and inclusiveness in the learning environment," Rogers said. "What the students are able to do here, they take with them into the real world."
As the technology available for disabled students grew, so did the research at the DSP. Students can apply for a grant through the program to obtain the WYNN software - What You Need to Know – which allows notes and textbooks to be scanned onto computers and, for visually impaired students, read aloud using speech synthesis. The software costs nearly $1,000 on the open market.
Funding and support has allowed the program to survive the UC budget cuts without laying off personnel. Rogers said Berkeley’s administration has been overwhelming in its support and the DSP receives a $297,000 grant each year from the federal Department of Education. To those enrolled, that funding and the services provided by DSP mean everything.
"It’s just excellent," said fifth-year political science student Sofia Vergara, 22, who has cerebral palsy. "I think without the services of DSP, my life would be much more difficult and perhaps impossible."