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When Katie Bandel was ready for college, she wasn’t so sure college was ready for her.

 Born with a visual impairment, going to school presented a number of difficulties. Her high school experience had been less than positive, and she was worried that college would be just as bad – or worse.

“I was nervous,” Bandel recalled of her decision to go to college. “In the past, I didn’t feel there had been many actions taken to accommodate my disability. In middle school and high school, some teachers were accommodating, but others didn’t seem to care. I felt like the whole disabilities issue was swept under the rug.”

 As things turned out, SPC was a good choice for her. People at the college seemed to understand what people with disabilities needed to succeed, she said.

 “I was really impressed,” she said of her first impressions at SPC. “They offered me double testing times, and equipment was available to make things easier for me.”

 One example was a camera she could use in the classroom to record lectures. The camera is easy to manipulate, and makes images bigger and easier to see.

“I can move the camera around and see the teacher or the other students,” she said. “It helps me a lot. It has given me a lot more confidence.” 

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. But SPC doesn’t need a special month to keep the needs of people with disabilities at the forefront. The college has been steadily expanding equipment and services for students with disabilities, even as budgets and resources have been shrinking.

 Filling those needs can be a challenge; the population of students with disabilities goes up every year, and state and federal governments frequently increase their requirements for service.

Peg Connell, Director, Disability Resources in the department of Academic and Student Affairs, said students with disabilities deserve no special favors, but a level playing field – the ability to study and achieve while not being held back by their disabilities.

 Connell said SPC’s challenge is to serve students with disabilities while coping with staff and resource limitations.

 “We are not hugely staffed, and we find ourselves sharing staff more with Counseling and Advising and the MAP Centers,” she said. “Those are the conversations we are having now – how we can all work together and help one another to ensure student success.”

 SPC currently serves 917 students with documented disabilities, Connell said, and that number is expected to rise as enrollments increase and as more students with disabilities become aware of the services SPC provides.

 Another growth factor is expected to come from returning military personnel, many of whom have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other disabilities.

 Another student, William Marshall, has a unique perspective on SPC’s services for students with disabilities – he has been attending classes at the Clearwater Campus for 15 years, and has seen many changes.

 “The department that handles the equipment does a great job,” he said. “Also, there’s a tutoring department that offers all kinds of help.”

 Marshall singled out Aimee Stubbs, a learning specialist at the campus.

 “She bends over backwards to help and she’s really in tune with the student population,” he said.

 Marshall noted how far things have come for people with disabilities just in his lifetime. The birth defect that took his sight and caused other problems was commonly fatal when he was born in 1977. Not only has he survived, but he’s pursuing a degree in business and is preparing to join his brother’s web design business.

 This effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment began in 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The word “physically” was removed in 1962. Congress expanded the week to a month in 1988 and changed the name.

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