URI awarded $349,000 federal grant to bolster training of faculty, staff on disability issues

KINGSTON, R.I. — September 13, 1999 — A new federal grant awarded to the University of Rhode Island will help eliminate a negative factor for students with disabilities-the attitudes of individuals who hold fast to stereotypes. The U.S. Department of Education granted URI $349,000 over the next three years to enhance and expand its innovative process to foster an accepting environment at URI. The initial goal of the project is curriculum development for week-long seminars to train 10 faculty members as resource mentors who will support other faculty members in disability issues. The next step will be to evaluate the training and offer the program to other higher education institutions throughout the state and the northeast. One of the central tenets of the project is to make the URI community a campus culture that treasures and nurtures contributions of all its members, including members with disabilities. Furthermore, the community is enhanced by those contributions. According to Pamela A. Rohland, URI assistant director of student life for disability services, the project grew out of her work begun several years ago to help faculty members better understand issues relating to students with disabilities. In 1996, she conducted a survey of faculty that resulted in a brochure published in 1997–Changing Perceptions, An Information Guide for Faculty and Staff About Students With Disabilities. In 1998, Rohland organized her first three-hour volunteer seminar for faculty called “Changing Perceptions; A Community Dialogue on Disability and Diversity.” Last spring, the seminar was offered again. “The seminars were designed to convey information on disability issues and help people look beyond the disability to the entire person. Disability is no different than any other issue of cultural diversity.” In March, the state Department of Education, aware of the strong work URI was doing in the area, notified Rohland of the federal grant opportunity. Rohland said the grant will pay student panelists who are involved in the training, and to find equipment that will help faculty and staff experience what it is like to have a disability. Rohland stated emphatically, however, that this grant is not about treating students with disabilities differently. “We track grades for students with disabilities and they very much mirror the entire student population, which includes Centennial Scholars and Dean’s List students. All of the students with disabilities who are admitted to the University meet the same standards as the rest of the community,” Rohland said. There are 400 students at the University who have identified themselves as having disabilities, 75 percent of whom have a learning or attention disability, said Rohland. She believes there are probably two to three times that number on campus. “Pamela Rohland brought together a remarkable team of individuals to work on this grant, including Karen Markin of the Research Office, Bette Erickson of the Instructional Development Program and Gail Lepkowski and Fran Cohen of the Office of Student Life,” said Susan E. Roush, associate professor of physical therapy and the co-principal investigator on the grant. “I was privileged to be part of that team. We are thrilled that the U.S. Department of Education shares our vision of higher education for students with disabilities. As co-PI, I will be working closely with Pamela in delivering the training seminars and providing ongoing support for the disability resource mentors. Rohland said the project is off to a good start because there are 20 faculty who have expressed interest in the project. “We are going to set up a web site to facilitate information exchange,” she said. A broad range of students with disabilities will be asked to serve on the seminar panels. -xxx- For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116