Donna Smith: Disability Services Counselor Making a Difference

Donna Glass Smith is a Disability Services Counselor at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). She is assigned to the Medical Education Campus in Springfield, Virginia. With the continued growth in enrollment of students with disabilities in postsecondary institutions, Ms. Smith believe that it is important for educators to champion efforts that will enhance learning environments for nursing students with disabilities.

In her job, she assists students, faculty, and administration in examining and addressing barriers to student success. Donna Smith is a 2008 graduate of The University of Alabama, with a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. Prior to earning her master’s degree, she worked in retail operations management for ten years for Walgreens and Staples. As a store manager, she often hired and made accommodations for employees with disabilities. Having grown up with an older brother who is deaf, she understood the role of vocational rehabilitation and the struggles of adults with disabilities seeking employment. After graduating with her master’s degree, she’s worked at the Office of Disability Services at The University of Alabama and is currently a Disability Services Counselor for Northern Virginia Community College, Medical Education Campus in Springfield, Virginia. She’s currently working on the completion of her Ed.S. Degree in Counselor Education and she enjoys hiking and reading and writing fiction. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with 2 dogs, 3 birds, and one hamster.

Her job responsibilities include the following:
Facilitating & advocating for the provision of reasonable accommodations for students registered with Disability Student Support Services at the Medical Education Campus of NOVA to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, & the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008.
Managing a Disability Student Services Caseload, including intake interviews & review of medical & psychoeducational documentation to determine eligibility of students to receive academic accommodations & support/technical services.
Providing academic advising counseling for students entering NOVA Nursing (RN) & Allied Health Associate Degree Programs (Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Occupational Therapy Asst., Physical Therapy Asst., Radiography, Respiratory Therapy, Dental Hygiene, Emergency Medical Services, Health Information Management, and Medical Laboratory Technology).
Chairing the Disability Services Work Group consisting of professionals from 6 Northern Virginia Community College campuses in Virginia.

Barriers confronted:
Donna believes that nursing students face barriers that are physical, attitudinal, and systemic in nature, including the \ following:
Systemic bias can occur through the admission process when outdated and improperly worded forms are used and create unnecessary barriers for qualified students with disabilities.

2) Lack
of training and education of faculty regarding the rights of students and responsibilities of both students and faculty under federal legislation can lend itself to many barriers for students as well.

3) Both
students and faculty struggle with identifying and testing accommodations for safety and effectiveness in the demonstration and application of required nursing skills. This can be particularly difficult for planning purposes when it is unsure whether or not an accommodation is needed until the student actually attempts the skill in the teaching lab.

4) The
translation of effective and appropriate accommodations to clinical experiences poses a continued challenge for students and nurse educators as they strive to uphold standards for safe patient care and maintain required technical standards/ essential functions.

Relationships and agreements with clinical sites as well as the availability of resources can make this process difficult to navigate, impacting the implementation of accommodations for nursing students.

Solutions that improve the practice and nursing profession:
Participation of faculty (working jointly with the student) in the process of identifying, testing, and evaluating required skills for modifications that are appropriate, effective, and meet the requirements and standards of the nursing program is essential.

Some accommodations and techniques that I’ve found to be useful include:
• Communication via Skype or email for demonstration and discussion of possible modifications for required skills
• Viewing of video content (with earbuds/headphones) that demonstrates possible modified techniques for required skills
• Modifications in the steps/order of a particular skill
• The use of technology and adaptive devices
• The adaptation of manual techniques
• Use of open lab time & resources for practice and study