UF announced Thursday it will provide more resources and funding for the Disability Resource Center to meet its growing demand.
During the 2012-13 academic year, the center served 1,214 students. This academic year, 3,055 students are registered to receive help from the center. However, only one more specialist had been added in the meantime — bringing the team from four people to five, according to Alligator archives.
To remedy the lack of resources, the Provost’s Office will spend nearly $475,000 on the center, UF spokesperson Margot Winick wrote in an email. Winick said the decision had been in the works for about a year.
The university will use $384,030 to make four more residence hall rooms in Cypress Hall accessible for students with severe mobility impairment, according to a news release. The DRC will also hire an additional learning specialist and graduate assistant, which will cost $90,896 annually, to help with one-on-one mentoring, lead training initiatives and help students transition in and out of college, said Gerardo Altamirano, director of the DRC.
As of now, there are about 620 students for every one learning specialist. The additional specialist will reduce this ratio to 442 students for every one learning specialist, according to the news release.
Altamirano said he hopes wait times are reduced to less than two weeks and appointments aren’t rushed after these changes.
“I was very ecstatic and thankful most of all that our upper administration and our provost was so willing to support us,” he said.
The four rooms in Cypress Hall will have lift systems, which help students with disabilities move around the room, and a remote that can open the door and control the blinds to help students live more autonomously, Altamirano said. Although 35 rooms in Cypress Hall can be used for students with severe mobile impairment, UF plans to add the lift systems and other necessary technology in the rooms as demand grows, Winick said. After these four rooms are renovated, the residence hall will have 15.
Some of the students who live in Cypress Hall have personal care assistants who provide service 24 hours a day. With about 43 care attendants who help care for students in the residence hall, the space is relatively small for them, he said. Some of the funding will be used to make a larger space where staff members wait for their students to need their assistance.
Altamirano said he is excited about adding staff members.
The graduate assistant will lead initiatives like disability advocate training to create more sources of support for disabled students on campus and play a role in transitioning students by explaining what resources are available to them when they enter UF and help them find a job when they graduate, Altamirano said.
Altamirano said he also hopes to develop a career fair where students can interact with disability-inclusive employers.
Bradley Minotti, a 20-year-old UF psychology sophomore who has used the DRC since he was a freshman, said he is excited about the additional learning specialist and graduate assistant.
“It’s something that we’ve all been hoping for, for a while now,” he said.
Minotti hopes the additional staff will relieve some of the pressure on the DRC as the number of students they serve continues to climb. He’s also looking forward to shorter wait times to see his own learning specialist. He said he currently waits two to three weeks.
The decision to increase funding and resources shows that UF administration prioritizes supporting students with disabilities, he said.
“They heard that we needed more resources and they’re going to provide that, which I think is really great because not a lot of universities think like that,” he said.