Since his arrival on campus in August, Accessibility Counselor Christopher Lee has found himself receiving enthusiastic responses from just about every person he’s met about his addition to the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS).
“Everyone I’ve been introduced to — students, faculty, administration — everybody on campus has kind of been very ecstatic and elated to know that I am here,” Lee said.
The warm welcome for Lee follows past complaints by students, acknowledged by Director of Disability Support Services Stephanie Grimes, over the difficulty they have had accessing her and the DSS Office.
For the past two years, Grimes has been heading the office on her own, making it a challenge to effectively respond to all students in need of assistance from DSS. She states about 104 students per term currently utilize academic accommodations.
Grimes noted that she previously had a part time staff member in the office with her, but it has taken the two years since they departed for a new full time employee to be hired.
“It’s about our ability to help to provide academic support to students, so just having someone here to be able to do that- it’s going to make a big difference,” Grimes said.
Lee’s role as Accessibility Counselor is to support students in getting their needed academic and residential accommodations. He also sees part of the office’s function as advocating for accessibility issues on campus.
Lee received his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Cincinnati before earning his Graduate’s in Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While he says he didn’t foresee working in an academic setting, he had hoped to find a place where he could meaningfully support individuals with disabilities and other health conditions.
“I had some medical experience of my own growing up, and I wanted to in some way find a path that would lead me to a career where I could help other individuals be as successful as they can be,” Lee said.
He explained that looking back on his academic experience, he realizes that he did not take full advantage of the services that could have been available to him, and wants to make sure students know what they have access to.
Lee especially hopes that students are aware that the Disability Office can also offer services to students who don’t necessarily have a diagnosed disability, whether they are facing an academic, residential or mental health problem.
“We want students to know that we are a space where you can come talk to us about those problems, and if it does rise to the level of you needing accommodations we can — start that dialogue, start that process,” Lee said.
As Lee transitions into his position, Grimes says she has also found herself having to mentally adjust to the change it represents for the office’s function.
Grimes has had to remind herself that with the lighter workload, she no longer has to take extra steps to balance her work, such as waiting to eat lunch late instead of at a normal hour.
“I’m kind of geared now for just working as a person of one, so now I have to kind of reshift my thinking and mindset,” Grimes said. “But it’s nice being able to do that, where before, you just dig in, and you do what you have to do.”
Grimes states that while Disability Services’ responsibilities grow every year, Lee’s addition is allowing them to become more manageable.
She credited the advocacy of faculty on behalf of DSS for pushing for the addition of a new staff member, as well as former Provost Kai Campbell and President Teresa Amott for facilitating it.
“When we sat down and talked about the position, she was very understanding of what the need was here in the office. So thanks to her for recognizing we did need the additional support,” Grimes said.
As he has begun working with students, Lee states that he has gathered an impression of Knox as being a tight knit community where students and faculty lend support to one another.
Lee acknowledged that among the issues brought up to him, the one that has been the most mentioned so far is the physical accessibility of the Knox campus, with students describing difficulties maneuvering in and out of buildings.
While Lee emphasized that he does not have direct authority to push for improvements, he was interested in working with Grimes to see what can be done.
“A lot of advocacy is just awareness of issues and getting the information out there,” Lee said.