A policy change mandated by the UC Office of the President regarding the hiring of student note-takers for disabled students’ programs at UC campuses has created significant delays in the program’s services at UC Berkeley.
The UC system required the Disabled Students’ Program, whose note-taking service is critically important to many disabled students, to change its hiring practices to be more compliant with federal laws. Previously, note-takers were hired as contractors, but under the new requirements from the university, students will now have to complete relevant paperwork to become official employees.
According to DSP director Paul Hippolitus, the university ordered the policy changes to better comply with federal laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act and Internal Revenue Service requirements. The university’s legal staff created a new category of employees, called “volunteer workers,” to accommodate the change.
UC officials began to discuss reforming the hiring practices of the disabled students’ programs about six months before the changes were finalized in August.
“The policy came to us very late in August. It took time to figure out how to hire probably around 200 volunteers during the first two weeks (of school),” Hippolitus said.
Emily Khuc, a note-taker, said that this semester she has to complete paperwork to become a note-taker, including documentation for identification and employment authorization.
“When I became a note-taker last semester, I expected to do paperwork. When I didn’t have to do paperwork, I was kind of surprised because it is kind of an employment — you’re getting a reimbursement for your services,” Khuc said. “So when this happened, I thought they probably are just now trying to make it more of an official employment.”
Hippolitus said that DSP tried to make accommodations for the students waiting for their notes.
“Most DSP students just had to wait because we can’t commission anyone to do anything until the paperwork is completed,” Hippolitus said. “To work around it, our staff talked to faculty and let them know what’s happened to make accommodations in the academic side.”
Despite the two-week delay, Hippolitus said that the note-taking service has caught up with the pace courses.
However, Sahar Gholam, a UC Berkeley senior who suffers from arthritis, said that she is still waiting to get access to notes for most of her classes. Only one of her four classes is linked to a special bSpace tab, which DSP students and note-takers can access to upload and receive their notes.
According to Gholam, if there were no volunteers to take notes for a class, DSP students could previously access notes that were provided by the service run by the ASUC Auxiliary. However, the ASUC note service closed down last year due to declining revenue.
“It’s really frustrating. School’s started for two weeks now, and I haven’t had any updates,” Gholam said. “I check it everyday to see if any accommodations have been made. These notes highly affect my grade — they are my access to learning.”
Somin Park covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected].