Slow grant disbursements hinders technology access for students with disabilities

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At least 15 students in the Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, have encountered problems with the disbursements of their fall 2017 technology grants — funds which enable them to purchase assistive technology — according to Berkeley Disabled Students, or BDS, founder Lisa Albertson.

According to Albertson, DSP Director Karen Nielson gave affected students “conflicting, wrong, delayed, or lack of any correspondence.”

“This grant should have been (disbursed) months ago in order to accommodate and assist students with disabilities to support their educational goals/coursework,” Albertson said in an email.

DSP has been the subject of campus controversy in the past. In April 2017, Albertson and former BDS co-chair Sarah Funes alleged that the campus purposely misreported the number of students being serviced by TRiO at DSP — a program that provides support for students with disabilities — in order to meet federal guidelines.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, UC Berkeley was awarded $300,902 last year to support a minimum of 250 students with disabilities through TRiO. TRiO program coordinator Juan Berumen, however, said he could not account for how 205 of those students joined the program.

In addition, DSP has faced financial difficulties in past years.

DSP serves approximately 1,700 students, or 6 percent of the campus student population. The program’s services include specialized academic advising, alternative media accommodations and auxiliary services such as note takers, readers, sign language interpreters, real-time captioning and assistive listening devices.

Because technology grants are not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, funds are often limited and disbursed only as available, Nielson said. She added that DSP cannot guarantee funds by any particular date, and she acknowledged a number of inquiries and one complaint regarding the fall 2017 technology grants.

“Because of new financial aid rules, we have had some delays with getting these grants processed over the past two semesters,” Nielson said in an email. “The fall grants were delayed because we were working in partnership with financial aid to ensure that any grants we approved would be processed. All of the grant requests we received for the fall are in the process of being resolved now.”

Nielson added that DSP is presently working with financial aid to “refine” its processes in order to expedite technology grant processing in the future.

Contact Jared Brewer at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JaredBBrewer.