Advocating for students with disabilities

Photo by Allie Ghisson

The Office of Disability Services (ODS) at Tech is a resource that provides equal access to education to students with disabilities. Located in the Flag Building, ODS offers several services to make sure that students with disabilities are not hindered from having fulfilling college experiences, both in the classroom and around campus.

“Our role on campus is to ensure students with disabilities have the right and the ability to [have] equal access to education,” said Sarah Endicott, a disability services provider at ODS. 

As a disability services provider, Endicott works with students to determine the appropriate accommodations for their specific needs. 

This determination is based on the documentation a student provides to the office and on the outcome of an interview with the student. This process is meant to ensure that each student has the ability to participate in classroom and campus matters.

“We serve as advocates for the students,” said Tina Allen, administrative assistant at ODS. 

ODS advocates for students with disabilities in several ways. It oversees the Testing Center, where students who require accommodations such as extra time or a quiet, distraction-free testing environment may take their exams.

“We provide — through the Testing Center — a service to the faculty of Georgia Tech,” Endicott said. “We will serve as [exam] proctors instead of them.” 

After students identify themselves as requiring specific testing accommodations, the Testing Center will contact the students’ professors to ensure that their exams are delivered to the Testing Center at the appropriate times.

“We basically oversee that the students are taking the tests and respecting the academic integrity rules at Tech,” Endicott said. “We like to be able to do it in a manner where the students can take their tests with the same right of access [as students who do not require additional accommodations].”

One challenge is dealing with Tech students’ often packed class schedules. Students typically take the exam in the Testing Center at the same time as the rest of the class, having additional time built in by starting the exam earlier or completing the exam later than the class. 

However, Endicott has seen cases where students may have three classes in a row, and a student is unable to take the exam without interfering with another class time. In these cases, ODS works to set up another time for the student to take the test.

ODS also provides assistive technology to students. This may include recording devices for students who need to record lectures, mobile assisted listening systems and smart pens for pairing written notes with recorded audio.

“Some of our audio-recorded notes, we can send them off to be transcribed; although, that’s not as effective for some of the classes here at Tech, because a lot of the classes are full of mathematical equations,” Endicott said. “That’s one of those kinds of things that you need to have sort of an understanding of what to write down in order to properly record it … A lot of the transcription services that are available are done via a computer, with voice recognition, and that voice recognition doesn’t do well with the mathematical equations.”

In these cases, it is more useful for ODS to provide peer notetakers. A peer notetaker is a classmate who takes detailed notes to share with ODS for another student to use. This service helps students with disabilities for a variety of reasons; for example, it would aid someone who cannot take sufficient notes in class because they must spend more time concentrating on listening to a lecture. 

“Each of these types of notetaking are custom-fit to the students who need them. That allows a student to be most effective in the way that they’re getting notes for class … Certain forms of notetaking make a student with a disability very dependent, and we really would rather have our students be independent as much possible,” Endicott said.

The office also coordinates with other departments on campus and serves as a consultant when issues of accommodating members of the Tech community with disabilities are concerned. ODS often works with other departments to ensure that students with disabilities have classes in accessible buildings.

“We want to make sure that we’ve got accessible classrooms … We have buildings on campus still that don’t have elevators, and so when we have a student who has a mobility impairment that needs access to a class in a building that doesn’t have an elevator … what we typically do is work with [other campus departments] to relocate the class to a more accessible location,” Endicott said.

ODS also coordinates with other departments to provide accessible furniture. For example, a wheelchair user in a lab might require a table allowing his or her knees to fit underneath. ODS can ensure that the student is provided with an appropriate table so that they can participate in lab.

The office works with several other campus departments to make sure that a student’s course materials are provided in an accessible format. This can include copies of course materials that are digital, in braille or in audio format. 

They also coordinate with Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) to assist students with mobility impairments. ODS will screen the student’s documentation to determine the appropriate accommodations, and then introduces the student to PTS, who provides rides through services such as the Stingerette.

ODS also helps students with wayfinding on campus. This helps students plan accessible routes around campus at the beginning of each semester. The campus map, available at, has a “universal access” feature that highlights accessible routes and entrances around Tech.

“[The map] is not something that we’ve done directly in Disability Services, but it is something that we had input on over time,” Endicott said.

ODS continues to work alongside students with disabilities — and with faculty and other campus departments — to provide an inclusive learning and living environment for all students. 

“Basically, we’re here to serve our students with disabilities, and be advocates for our students with disabilities — and be educators on students with disabilities for folks who would like to know more about it,” Endicott said. 

The Office of Disability Services has plans to expand its role on campus in the future. For more information on ODS, visit