Office for students with disabilities and deaf services


Amanda Thomas dropped out of high school in 10th grade due to attention deficit disorder and depression worsened by type I diabetes.

“My brain shuts down, and I don’t work well when I’m nervous,” the Chicopee resident said.

But her life changed after she got her GED and enrolled at HCC, where specialists in the Office for Students with Disabilities and Deaf Services (OSDDS) helped her get the classroom accommodations she needed to succeed.

Thanks to their help – and her own hard work –Thomas graduated from HCC last year and now works as a receptionist at the Willimansett Center East nursing home.

“I wanted to finish and be proud of myself for something,” she said. “I feel extremely confident now.”

Programming for students with disabilities began at HCC in 1990. Back then, the college had 35 students with disabilities, according to OSDDS director Maureen Conroy. The department now serves more than 900 students, occupies 13 rooms on the first floor of Donahue and has 10 total staff, including three full-time learning specialists and one Deaf specialist.

That growth followed the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1992, which increased awareness about accessibility issues and gave a legal mandate to programs for people with disabilities.

In 1994, OSDDS became its own department and today serves students with a wide range of disabilities, from those with learning disabilities and those on the autism spectrum to others with sensory disabilities, difficulties with hearing and sight, psychiatric disorders and brain injuries. The department also serves veterans.

Students start with an evaluation to determine which accommodations they need. An advisor helps them design their curriculum, with an eye toward their plans after graduation.

“Our approach is to talk to them about their skill base rather than their deficit base,” Conroy said. “We ask ‘What do they love?’ ‘What do they do well?’ Our main job is to make sure they are being offered access to the classroom environment and also to see their capabilities.”

Accommodations range from the relatively simple, such as adjustable tables, to the more complicated, such as a computer screen reader for the blind called JAWS (Job Access With Speech.) Students have access to tutoring and can meet with an assistive technology specialist to determine their specific needs.

“The services are rather fluid and change with the needs of the student,” Conroy said.

OSDDS found another student to take notes for Thomas so the human services and liberal arts major could focus on her teachers. Thomas also used an audio recorder for classes and was allowed to take tests over an extended time period in a quiet booth in the school’s testing center.

She also met weekly with her OSDDS advisor to review notes and work on test-taking strategies.

“She would help me focus on one question at a time and on building structure,” Thomas said. “I learned about prioritizing and going step by step.”

OSDDS also holds faculty workshops, offering advice such as, “Don’t talk to a class with your back turned.”

“These resources totally make the difference between students succeeding or not,” said learning specialist Dorothy Blair.


Interested students may visit the OSDDS office at Donahue 147 or call (413) 552-2417 for an appointment.

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