A committee on Illinois State University’s campus was formed to determine the need for disability support.
Resulting from the committee’s work and the landmark federal civil rights legislation Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Office of Services for the Handicapped (OSHP) was created and housed within Hovey Hall under Administrative Services. Under its sole employee, Dr. Judy Smithson, OSHP was created to help provide accommodations for students, faculty, and staff. The purpose of the OSHP was to work with individuals with disabilities to facilitate their successful integration into the university community as students, faculty, and staff. Services through this office included readers, interpreters, wheelchair pushers, tutors, note takers, and maintenance of a list of individuals who served as personal aides. The office, with the exception of Dr. Smithson and a student worker, was run entirely on volunteers.
At the time, the OSHP was one of the first disability services offices in the nation to be funded by hard money rather than grant money, symbolizing Illinois State’s dedication to students with disabilities and inclusion.
Continuing under Dr. Smithson’s leadership, the OSHP became “Disability Concerns” in the fall of 1985. During this time, the office was starting to grow with over 100 students receiving services. During this time, Dr. Smithson transitioned from coordinator of Disability Concerns to the director of Disability Concerns and was also approved to hire a part-time secretary, expanding the office to three paid staff members.
As growth of the office continued and students with disabilities sought more support on campus, staffing increased. In the late 80’s Disability Concerns had expanded to a full-time director, assistant director, and secretary, as well as a part time secretary and coordinator for students who were deaf/hard of hearing.
Disability Concerns is the fortunate recipient of the 1989 Senior Challenge. Funds garnered are used to add power-operated, access push-buttons to bathrooms on the first floor of academic buildings.
In the fall of 1990, Administrative Services was disbanded, and Disability Concerns was housed under Student Affairs. By 1993, the office again continued to expand by adding two additional assistant directors and a full-time secretary.
With the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a new focus was placed on providing accommodations to students. The department saw a huge jump in students needing accommodations, but did not see an increase in funding. The office moved from Hovey Hall to Fell Hall between 1992 and 1993, where it continues to reside today. Fell Hall was previously a residence hall that included international house.
With the foundation of Disability Concerns established, Dr. Smithson retired in 1998, promoting one of the office’s assistant directors, Ann Caldwell, to the director position. Caldwell served as the office’s director from 1999–2016 before retiring.
At this time, Disability Concerns was still under the larger division of Student Affairs.
Disability Concerns took on the Workforce Recruitment Program, a federal program that provides students with an opportunity to participate in paid and unpaid internship opportunities with the federal government. The office has participated each year since 1999, and many students have benefitted from enriching opportunities to employment options.
The Text Conversion lab was created in an effort to meet expanding technological needs, with the first graduate assistant being hired in 2002. Previous to this area being established, volunteers would come in and read books out loud into tape recorders, one hour at a time, and then dub the tapes to give one copy to students and another to keep in order to build a library. Students would receive shoe boxes of cassette tapes for their audio books. A full-time staff member took on the role as text conversion lab coordinator.
Fall of 2005 saw the first scholarships awarded from Disability Concerns. The Dr. Judy Smithson scholarship was established for graduate students with disabilities. It was started and continues to be supported in honor of the founder and first director, Dr. Judy Smithson. The same year a trust fund provided funds for undergraduate students with specific disabilities. The trust supported scholarships with increasing funds from 2005 to 2018 when they shifted focus to children’s hospitals. Ann Caldwell, the director at this time, established the Will to Succeed Scholarship for undergraduates in fall 2010.
Also during this time, staffing in the accommodations office (the area that administers exams/quizzes) changed from graduate assistants and student workers to a full-time staff member supplemented with GAs/student workers. This provided consistency in service.
The office grew again in 2006, with the first testing accommodations system developed and implemented for Disability Concerns, called Nexus, which housed all accommodation requests for students who were receiving services.
An assistant director was hired to oversee accommodations for employees with disabilities and a variety of other duties. The responsibility of employee accommodations and the staff member were transitioned to Human Resources in fall 2008, with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access now taking on this responsibility. Additionally, a full-time staff interpreter was also hired at this time.
A student program was developed and staffed by a graduate assistant called Academic and Campus Community Empowerment (ACE) including a mentorship portion. This was in response to feedback from students indicating a need for social interaction. The program ended in May 2017.
With over 1,000 students receiving services, an associate director, Tammie Keney, was hired to take on growing administrative functions within the office.
After 17 years of service as director of Disability Concerns, Ann Caldwell retired and Associate Director Tammie Keney was promoted to director, and the social justice model of disability was implemented.
With student feedback and in an effort of inclusivity, Disability Concerns changed its name to Student Access and Accommodation Services (SAAS).
In spring of 2016, the latest RSO from SAAS was approved, so the Student Disability Network was established. SAAS maintains a relationship with DEAF Redbirds (established 1993–1994) and an earlier RSO named ISUABLE.
In a collaboration with several academic and support departments, as well as to promote universal design, Illinois State purchased a university license for Fusion software. The multiuse software combines a screen reader and enlargement option to provide the University community with universal design.
After nearly 40 years under a paper file system, SAAS transitioned to and implemented an entirely digital accommodation system, called the Accessible Information Management system, or AIM accommodation system. This system allowed students the freedom to tailor their approved accommodations to their needs specific for each class, as well as introduced efficiencies in notifying faculty about approved accommodations.