Let’s start off with the data. The Disabled Students’ Program (DSP) serves over 5,000 students, approximately 11% of the students enrolled at UC Berkeley.  Nearly 15% of DSP students (755 as of July 29, 2022) are graduate students who chose to contact DSP and apply for accommodations. The disabled student community at UC Berkeley is even larger than this, as there are students with disabilities on campus who choose not to apply for accommodations. We sat down with DSP to get a breakdown on how graduate students with disabilities get support, and what that process is like to hopefully help anyone considering requesting academic accommodations. 

What is DSP?

DSP’s Mission Statement explains their philosophy and purpose: “The Disabled Students’ Program promotes an inclusive environment for students with disabilities. We equip disabled students with appropriate accommodations and services to achieve their individual academic goals. We are dedicated to supporting disabled students and collaborating with the campus community to remove barriers to educational access and embrace the University’s values of equity and inclusion. We believe that an accessible environment universally benefits everyone.”

Who are students with disabilities at UC Berkeley?

The disability community at Berkeley is very diverse! The most frequent disability identity shared by disabled students at Berkeley is a psychological disability. More than half of the students who are part of DSP are receiving accommodations for a psychological disability (the most represented disabilities under this umbrella include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress). The next largest group of students DSP serves are students with ADHD. DSP also serves students with chronic health conditions (such as Crohn’s Disease and diabetes), learning disabilities, neurological disabilities (such as migraines and epilepsy), mobility disabilities, autism, visual impairment or blindness, students who are hard of hearing or Deaf, and students with speech and communication disabilities. About 30% of the students who are served by DSP have two or more disabilities. 

What is an “accommodation”?

An accommodation removes a barrier that exists due to the intersection of the impact of a student’s disability and the structure of the academic environment. Accommodations may involve modifications of campus policies (such as approval for a reduced course load or support for an extension of normative time) or modifications of the format of a task (such as extended time on a timed exam or the ability to use a laptop to type notes in class) or modifications of the tools a student uses to complete a task (such as texts provided in braille or the use of a computer with screen-reading software to take an exam). Accommodations can involve the manner in which information is relayed (such as using ASL interpreters or providing captioned media). An accommodation serves to ensure that a student with a disability has equal access to participate in their academic program, without modifying the standards or goals of the academic program.  

What should graduate students know?

Graduate students may not understand that their disability experience may be different in graduate school than it was during their undergraduate studies, and the impacts of their disabilities and the expectations of their academic programs  may change over time, as well. Further, students may not realize that they are part of a large disability community at UC Berkeley– we know that there are hundreds of graduate students already working with DSP to arrange accommodations. All the more reason to inquire and get the process started as early as possible, before a crisis evolves. No need to wait until the semester starts. Get the process started right after you enroll in classes.

Your medical information is held confidential by DSP and you have control over how your personal information is shared. When a student is eligible for accommodations, instructors are notified of the required accommodations, but no specific information about the student’s disability identity is shared with their instructors. 

What if I don’t know if I truly need help? 

Don’t wait too long to apply for accommodations. There are many students who need accommodations, and during especially busy times, there can be a wait for intake appointments. In addition, it can take time to implement approved accommodations,  so you are encouraged to submit your AIM application as soon as you can. 

Where do I start? What is the process?

  1. Complete the application: Students seeking DSP services for the first time need to complete the application process through the Accessible Information Management System (AIM). AIM is a web-based database system that provides a means for DSP to communicate and interact with students along with faculty and staff in one place to arrange for accommodations.
  1. Submit or collect documentation: Students applying for DSP accommodations need to provide DSP with disability documentation to determine eligibility for accommodations (see documentation for more details). 
  2. Schedule an intake appointment with a graduate student Disability Specialist: by calling the DSP receptionist at (510) 642-0518 or emailing DSP at [email protected]. NOTE: Be sure to let them know all the times you are available. Appointments tend to be scheduled within 2-3 weeks. Keep in mind that peak times are the beginning of each semester.
  3. Meet with your Disability Specialist: After reviewing the documentation provided, the DSP specialist will be able help discuss the disability and the current academic setting. Expect to work closely with these specialists to make sure they understand the barriers that are being faced and how best to coordinate accommodations. They can also help guide you how to best implement the accommodations and consult with you on what kind of conversations to have with instructors. 
  4. Each semester log into AIM to request letters and services. Request services every semester as soon as you have enrolled. Your academic setting changes each semester, and the impact of a disability will also change. 

Getting Support

Have questions, not sure if you need support? Call the DSP receptionist  (510) 642-0518 or [email protected]

Disability Cultural Community Center The space is designed by, for, and with the disability community to serve as a platform to advocate, educate, and collaborate among students, faculty, and staff living with a disability to advance and empower both the community on campus and beyond so persons with disabilities can fully learn, work, and live with dignity. Join the General Interest Form to get updates.

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