Campus closes career services program for disabled students

DSRP_Lorenz Angelo Gonzales_file
Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/File

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At the end of the day Monday, the campus will close the Disabled Students’ Readiness Program, a subsidiary of the larger Disabled Students’ Program that helps students succeed in college and gain employment upon graduation.

The program served about 60 of the approximately 1,800 students registered with DSP. In addition to offering employment help, the program helps teach students to manage personal finances, navigate workplace interactions and communicate with professors and campus staff. Two of the program’s four staff members will be laid off, while the remaining two will be absorbed into other programs within DSP.

The campus attributed the loss of the program to recent changes in federal regulations affecting how the state Department of Rehabilitation can administer funds for the program, which operates under a statewide program WorkAbility IV, or WAIV.

As part of its contract with the state, the campus was required to match funds, or set aside a certain amount of money for DSRP, in order to receive federal funding for the program. After the new regulations the campus could no longer match funds as they had before — through paying administrators and other indirect costs, or any costs not directly related to DSRP personnel or the services they provided to students.

The state agency alerted DSP to the changes Aug. 8, which would require the campus provide about $200,000 in additional funds by Aug. 31 in order to receive remaining funds from the state.

“We got that information without much lead time,” said Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir. “In this fiscal climate it was just not feasible to continue the program in this current form.”

Twelve universities statewide have WAIV programs, but UC Berkeley is the only one dropping the program, according to DSRP Coordinator Kevin Shields, who was laid off as part of the program changes.

The DSRP program was created a year ago from the Disabled Students’ Residence Program, after it was closed in 2014. The new DSRP program was an attempt to keep providing additional support to students, adopting the old acronym.

Karen Nielson, director of DSP, and Nasir met with students Sept. 1 to announce the changes.

Bonnie Weinstein Crowe, who has a freshman son with autism, said her family had been looking at colleges for four years, and a major reason they chose UC Berkeley was because of its DSRP program.

“It was never possible to me that my son was going to get into Berkeley and a week and a half (after) him getting there as a freshman, they were going to cancel the program,” Crowe said. “It’s totally ripping the rug out from under him.”

A change.org petition opposing the program’s removal created this week has since garnered more than 1,300 signatures.

Nielson said the campus claimed about 20 percent of her time and resulting pay under the program’s matching funding because she also supervised the program’s staff as the campus WAIV program director.

While meeting match fund requirements through administrative and indirect costs is fairly common practice, according to Sarah Candee, a Department of Rehabilitation cooperative program section analyst, the new rules are simply a clarification of pre-existing federal policy.

Nasir said she understood the anger and worry from students at the closure of these programs, acknowledging that the campus appears to be going in “the opposite direction of our history” with its historic ties to the disability rights movement.

“We are in a rebuilding phase,” Nasir said. “We’re going to have some plans and provide some services that I think people will be really happy with.”

Nielson and Nasir both said they plan to continue communicating with affected students over the next few weeks to discuss students’ options.

Anna Sturla is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

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