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Seminar at UTPA focuses on disability services available to students
Posted: 06/26/2008
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A recent seminar presented at The University of Texas-Pan American offered Rio Grande Valley disability service professionals as well as individuals with disabilities an opportunity to learn more about benefits and services available locally to enable individuals with disabilities to obtain a higher education.

The "Disability Benefits and Return to Work" seminar, co-sponsored by the UTPA Department of Rehabilitation Addiction Studies Project, Workforce Solutions and the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), covered Social Security Administration (SSA)'s disability benefits and return to work considerations and incentives. It also held a session highlighting individuals with disabilities who had been on SSA disability benefits but have successfully transitioned to higher paying professional jobs by obtaining higher education.

Pictured participating in the Student Success panel at a recent seminar held at UTPA focused on the benefits and services available locally to enable individuals with disabilities to obtain a higher education are left to right Ernesto Gonzalez, Eberto Soto Jr., Jorge Urutia, Hector Requenez, Benny Ramirez, Noel Ysasi, and Judith Perez.
"Individuals with disabilities have the highest unemployment and poverty level of any minority group in the nation. By having a role model to demonstrate that obtaining an education is possible, more people with disabilities can become educated, employed, and lead more fulfilled lives," said Maureen McClain, associate director of Disability Services at UTPA, who participated in the seminar.

McClain said UTPA is an accessible campus and provides a wide variety of adaptive equipment for students with hearing, vision, mobility, learning and psychiatric disabilities. This assistive technology includes adjustable computer stations; computers with speech output, screen magnification, and print and Braille output; JAWS software which reads books aloud; closed circuit TV magnification systems; and FM listening devices for the hearing impaired.

Students who qualify can also benefit from the services of readers, scribes and note takers, who provide assistance during test taking or taking class notes, as well as sign language interpreters who can be with eligible students in the classroom. In addition, the UTPA Office of Disability Services provides information on scholarships that are available to those with disabilities.

Becoming paralyzed in her lower extremities from a gunshot wound in 1998 did not stop seminar panelist Judith Perez from obtaining not only a bachelor's degree in rehabilitative services in May 2002 but a master's in rehabilitation counseling in December 2003 - both from UTPA. For the past four years she has worked as a rehabilitation counselor in the DARS Division of Rehabilitative Services. Perez talked about the significance of the support she received in pursuing her studies and particularly appreciated that accessibility was not a problem on the UTPA campus.

"I was very fortunate that the campus was very accessible as far as ramps and elevators. I also found that the Department of Rehab had automatic door openers which were very useful for me to get into their main office," said Perez, who uses a wheelchair.

UTPA is also one of a number of community partners in a three-year project called Project RISE (Regional Initiative for Supported Employment) to increase employment opportunities for high school seniors receiving special education services in area high schools by connecting them to Workforce Centers, DARS, higher education institutions and other adult service agencies.

One of the objectives of Project RISE, an initiative of Workforce Solutions funded by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, is to increase these students' awareness about courses of study and available support services to help attain self-sufficiency said Jayshree Bhat, Project RISE director, who moderated the success story panel at the seminar.

"During campus visits, they (students) learn how to tap into disability student services available at higher education institutions to help them succeed in college," she said.

McClain said the seminar provided a great opportunity to reach out to a segment of the population that has great potential.

"Individuals with disabilities were provided with role models at this seminar, to make them aware that a college education is possible," she said. "All individuals with disabilities need to be made aware that they can enroll in college and change their life."

For more information, contact McClain at 956/316-7092 or via e-mail at maureen@utpa.edu.