Services for Students with Disabilities removes barriers within the Virginia Tech community
The access specialists team members of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) ensure that the disability community at Virginia Tech is provided with the necessary accommodations to advance in their academic journey.
“SSD is critical to the success of many students. The role that we play has a lot to do with finding systemic barriers that students encounter in the classroom and finding accommodations that will remove those barriers for them; So the classes remain just as challenging and not a challenge that wouldn't exist if they didn't have a disability,” said Associate Director Christa Miller, who joined the SSD team this year.
SSD is vital for students who need classroom and academic accommodations. As part of Virginia Tech Student Affairs, SSD serves undergraduate and graduate students at all Viriginia Tech campuses, as well as distance and online learners, international students, veterans, and students who attend the veterinary medicine and medical schools.
In a joint effort to raise awareness and advocate for those with disabilities, both Student Affairs and SSD aim to remove attitudinal and informational barriers surrounding disabilities by highlighting SSD’s services and their continued support for students as they increase academic, classroom, and on-campus housing accessibility.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual. Disabilities present in three ways: hidden, visible, and emergent. Visible disabilities can include wheelchair users, amputees, individuals with service animals or white cane users, while emergent disabilities include broken limbs, concussions, and acute illnesses. Although some disabilities are not overtly obvious, such as ADHD, deafness, depression, or cystic fibrosis, they are just as impactful to a person and can still limit major life activity. Disabilities can alter the way a student takes notes, understands or interprets lectures, or the ability to attend class.
The staff at SSD offer students a number of services and accommodations, including the SSD testing center, note takers, alternate text, accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing students, among numerous other accommodations.
SSD currently has five access specialists that assist students with accommodations in specific departments throughout campus.
Donna Glass Smith works with students in the College of Engineering (last names A-G), and with students in both university studies, as well as the graduate population at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She is a certified rehabilitation counselor and earned her master's degree in rehabilitation counseling in 2008, and her education specialist degree in counselor education in 2016, both from The University of Alabama. She's previously worked as an accommodations specialist at The University of Alabama and as an associate professor and counselor in the Virginia’s Community College System. Glass Smith has served as a counselor at SSD since 2014.
Haylee Simpkins joined SSD in 2018 working with the front office and the Werth Testing Center. She works with students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (last names A-M) and with students in the Pamplin College of Business. In 2021, Simpkins began her new role in the department as an access specialist. She earned a bachelor's degree in animal and poultry sciences from Virginia Tech and completed an internship with a local therapeutic riding program where she helped facilitate equine assisted activities for individuals with disabilities.
Matt Shelor works with students in the College of Engineering (last names H-Z) and students in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. He obtained his master's degree in counseling and human development with a concentration in student affairs from Radford University, while also serving as student body president. Before joining SSD as a disability counselor in 2019, he was an independent living counselor and disability advocate for New River Valley Disability Resource Center and now serves on their board of directors. Shelor was also a member of the National Council on Independent Living for nearly 10 years.
Shequetta Gravely works with students in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (last names N-Z). She is a native of Henry County, Virginia, who advocates for lifelong learning opportunities. Prior to joining SSD in 2021, Gravely worked as an educational sign language interpreter for students with hearing loss and other specific learning disabilities in public schools. She earned her dual-specialty master's degrees in clinical mental health counseling and clinical rehabilitation counseling from Thomas University.
Varie Lynn works with students in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and with students in the College of Science. She joined SSD in 2021, and has worked with individuals with disabilities for over eight years. She has a bachelor's degree in human services from Bluefield College and experience on the Blacksburg ADA Committee, spearheading projects for the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, surveying for ADA standards, and as a special education/disability advocate for the New River Valley. She's given disability presentations for Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society's regional Elder Abuse Conference.
Christa Miller earned her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 2008 and her master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering in 2012, both from Virginia Tech. Her graduate work in Braille production led her to specialize in the creation and acquisition of accessible educational materials. In her previous role as director of Inclusive Media Design for Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies, Miller developed and led professional development programs aimed at providing faculty, instructors and graduate teaching assistants with the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to create inclusive learning environments. She is delighted to continue at Virginia Tech and begin the next phase of her career in this exciting new role.
“I'm excited about my new role because it gives me the opportunity to work closely with students. I am very passionate about education and there are so many variables between programs and disciplines that it's important to me that students get the support that they need,” Miller said.
SSD provides numerous accommodations, services, and resources for students with disabilities and temporary injuries or illnesses. Their office is located at 310 Lavery Hall. If you are interested in requesting accommodations or in learning more about available services and resources, contact Services for Students with Disabilities Department by calling 540-231-3788 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Tayten Allison