The Catholic University of America

Student Affairs

DSS Office Helps Students Make Connections

  DSS student ambassadors at the beginning of the academic year. 

By Mike Allen, vice president for student affairs, and Emily Lucio, director of disability support services

Fall is always a busy time in the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS). The year begins with our “Smart Start” program, which is a comprehensive one-day orientation for students with learning disabilities and their families. Since the program started in 2008, more than 100 students have been through Smart Start. The goal of the program is to enable students with learning disabilities to become strong self-advocates, provide an awareness of available support services, communicate effectively with faculty and staff, and, ultimately, become successful at CUA. Feedback from the students and parents who participated in the program this year was especially positive.

As things wind down from Orientation, DSS begins to gear up for Disability Awareness Month, which happens in October. One of the highlights of Disability Awareness Month every year is the bulletin board contest, in which resident assistants design bulletin boards for the residence halls that deliver important educational messages centered on disability awareness. The boards from last year featured themes such as the Star Spangled Banner written out in sign language, athletes with disabilities, the challenge of being dyslexic, and a focus on ability instead of disability. We always look forward to seeing the creative talents of our student leaders.

In addition to the bulletin boards, our office will present information about autism spectrum disorders to the resident assistants. Given the increase in students with autism spectrum disorders on college campuses, this topic is particularly timely for our student staff. We also will be hosting an Orientation Extended program called “Deaf Culture is Part of Our Community,” which will feature a film about deaf culture and lessons in American Sign Language.

Every year DSS picks a group of students registered with the office to be student ambassadors. This year, there are seven students serving in this role. These students are an active part of our Smart Start program and they meet and greet prospective students and their parents during Odyssey Day in order to share their experiences about being students with a disability.

DSS actively engages with all members of the campus community throughout the year to create a culture of understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. We look forward to our continued close collaboration with faculty and staff to give them all appropriate information and resources while we strive collectively to provide a comfortable and supportive learning environment for all of our students.