Campus Disabled Students’ Program has been noncompliant with state regulations for years

Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/File

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Students and parents from the Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, learned at a meeting with the program’s director Thursday evening that the program has been out of compliance with state funding regulations for years.

The meeting was called to address student concerns following the recent discontinuation of Workability IV, or WAIV, a statewide Department of Rehabilitation, or DOR, program focused on preparing students with disabilities to find careers and adjust to school. In addition to announcing new plans for replacing the WAIV services, DSP Executive Director Karen Nielson discussed at the meeting the role that the previous DSP leadership, led by former director Paul Hippolitus, allegedly played in leading to WAIV’s closure.

UC Berkeley was the only campus of 12 schools in the state that offer WAIV programs to cancel it entirely. In response to changing regulations of the campus’s contracted federal funding from the DOR, campus officials have said that UC Berkeley would have needed to pay upward of $200,000 to maintain the services the campus’s WAIV program offered — some of which, students were told at the meeting, were not in fact covered by the contract.

Nielson said at the meeting the DOR also scheduled an audit for November that would have confirmed the DSP was not in compliance with its contract, according to multiple people who attended the meeting.

At the meeting, Nielson said the new regulations gave DSP two choices: to scale back on services to match the money they were given by the state or to pay additional funds required to cover the non-compliant services DSP had been offering. She added that previous DSP leadership was unaware of the campus’s noncompliance, and that she was informed her first week on the job in July.

“I asked, ‘Where is the money from the last year and a half?’ ” said Julie Cox, mother of a DSP student. “They said, ‘We don’t understand it either.’ ”

After the reception, students and parents said they appreciated the opportunity to hear answers about the program’s cancellations, although they felt the conversation should have started sooner and want to continue to push DSP to more transparency.

“What really came out was (parents and students) were demanding answers,” said Lisa Albertson, a social welfare major who works with the Berkeley Disabled Students group and attended the meeting. “Students and parents don’t want to just be fed info and numbers without having the data to back it up.”

In WAIV’s place, the DSP plans to administer new programs aimed at providing additional services — such as counseling, professional development and alternative classroom resources to more students with disabilities and to a larger pool of students than WAIV alone, as WAIV only applied to California residents.

Currently, there are six full-time, trained disability specialists at DSP, while in the previous year there were only two, and counseling for students on the autism spectrum was also previously only available to WAIV clients. Nielson, who also announced some of these changes in a campuswide email, said the new program would make drop-in counseling available to all DSP students on the autism spectrum.

DSP intends to hire a disability specialist who is also a career specialist by January who will specifically help students with disabilities in career development. Nielson said it also intends to partner with the campus Career Center and to bring in a consultant from College Autism Spectrum, an independent organization specializing in college counseling and work readiness for students with autism, to train staff to work with students who have behavioral issues and determine the kind of support they need.

At the meeting, Nielson asked parents and students what kind of services they would like to see. Many of them said they would like to see less emphasis on career services and more emphasis on support such as counseling and training students to use public transit, a resource that used to be offered to DSP students.

“We are trying to shift to be more responsive to our students,” Nielson said. “We can’t do everything that our students ask us to do, but we will always try to connect them with the resources that they need. … We are trying to signal ‘this is a new DSP.’ “

Contact Ashley Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Julie Cox is a UC Berkeley alumna. In fact, Bonnie Weinstein Crowe is a UC Berkeley alumna.