Dr. Amanda Jackson shares insights that she learned when completing her doctoral dissertation supporting veterans with disabilities at the University of Florida. She explains the barriers vets talked about, and Dr. Jackson offers suggestions to address the veterans' concerns. The barriers include confidentiality, reluctance to self-identify in the event that the individual wants to return to the military, and coping with stigma - not only externally, but also within the vet's own self-image.
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Episode 19 Wounded Warriors and College Accommodations
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Today we're talking to Dr. Amanda Jackson. And she has just completed her doctoral dissertation on veterans with disabilities. And so she would like to talk about how the information that she found can make a difference in a veterans life when they had to college. So Amanda, it's nice to see you.
Unknown Speaker 0:18
Thank you, Mickey. Thank you. It's definitely a very exciting experience to go through your Doctorate of Education. I got it in special education from the University of Florida, Go Gators. As always,
I was working in the Disability Resource Center at the University of Florida as a learning specialist, the Assistant Director for assistive technology services and whenever I first started, but I noticed that student veterans weren't reaching out to the Disability Resource Center until they were experiencing a drastic failure. So I wondered, you know, what was preventing student veterans with disabilities from reaching out to the Disability Resource Center until after something went wrong?
Interesting, very interesting. Yes, yes, I and I found the same experience when I worked as a coordinator Disability Services at the college that when I when I started working more closely with the VA with a college VA representative, then they became more aware of us in our services. What did you find was one of the reasons that the just the veterans were not reaching out for Disability Services.
Unknown Speaker 1:23
So before I started my research, I had kind of asked some of the veterans that I had been working with their thoughts. And, you know, it really just they kept sharing with me that like, they just didn't know about it. And so I brought it before my dissertation committee, and pretty much the entire time that I was doing my doctorate degree that I wanted to study, student veterans with disabilities at UF, I didn't necessarily know exactly what the topic was going to be. But after kind of talking through it, I decided I was going to do some, some interviews with some veterans at UF, and kind of really take a deep dive into their experience. So I conducted three rounds of interviews with my participants, I had three different participants color, male, and different branches, different majors, different parts in their academic career. One was, you know, in grad school, the other two were in undergrad. And army man and Navy man, it was really, it was really exciting. I didn't have the woman perspective. So I'm being transparent about the limitations. And also it was a small modifications, definitely something to keep in mind. But the participants really shared kind of, you know, a few different areas where they thought they had experienced barriers, accessing Disability Services, the perceived lack, like they just didn't know that they needed those services, because they were aware that there was Disability Services, or maybe they also thought that disability services was only for a specific type of population. So like, maybe they were received it for like a significant disability where I think, you know, in society we have, we have stigma, and we assume visible disabilities are typically what a disability services is for, or it's for ADHD. It's for learning disability, you know, I'm sure you've probably had this experience, but the vast majority of students that are registered with Disability Resource Centers actually have a mental health related disability. Nowadays, the participants just didn't think that they needed those services. And they didn't realize that they could be applicable to them. They also share that they were concerned about the confidentiality of their documentation. It was interesting to hear them talk about well, my concern is what if I decide I want to go back and I want to re enlist after I graduate? Well, you know, the military may not accept the fact that I now have a diagnosed disability, maybe they, they went their entire life without a disability. But maybe they acquired something, hey, we're in service, but they didn't share. So it's like that goes with this undiagnosed disability. And they're concerned about, well, if I share this with you, and I utilize services, what does that mean for me and my military future? If I decide I want to go back to
that legitimate concern? What I had
Unknown Speaker 4:26
seen in previous research that that was a definite concern that other veterans with disabilities had shared. So during the literature review process that definitely came out as far as the implications for future I'm not sure if like the legal laws associated with it, because you would have to be like conservative like discrimination but also, like fit first service. And so I don't know if there are implications for their future in the military. I have had experiences where in the past students that were in ROTC would have to get a letter from the DRC saying that they were never registered with our office. So I do think that there's probably implications. But those implications are not interesting. It may vary on the right, or the position that they're going into. That makes sense. Yeah, yeah, there's two, there were two other concerns that they had. And so one of them was like a lack of trust, and the disability services personnel. So like the people that worked in the DRC, they had difficulty with trusting them. And I, I kind of expected that one to come out. Because of the during the literature review process, I read several times about how, you know, veterans are more apt to trust more veterans. And whenever I was serving as the informal liaison, I'm not a veteran, I never served in the military, I have family who has served in the military, but I myself do not claim that identity. And so I had expected there to be a lack of trust in Disability Services, because of Sure, a lack of veteran lack of veteran affiliation. But what was actually really surprising to me during this study is, it wasn't associated with the person who worked in the DRC, their military status. So it was really, I don't want to say contradictory. But whenever my participants were sharing their concern, or their lack of trust with the disability services, it was more associated with how much information about their disability would be shared with others. It didn't have anything to do with being a veteran, which is what I expected would have come out because of the research that I did, it didn't matter. If someone was a veteran or not a veteran, if they worked in the DRC, as long as they were being treated equally and fairly. That's what mattered most to them. And then I would say like the last one is, every student with a disability experiences this concern of stigma, like or they're impacted a stigma, I think the difference that experience and other students with disabilities is that there's also this internalized stigma, that they may have kind of acquired during military culture that stigmatizes help seeking behaviors within the military, pick yourself up by the bootstraps, and you're gonna figure it out. That's what you have to do. And so they stigmatize seeking resources. For the veterans that I talked with, there was the external stigma of the concern of what their peers are, what their faculty or what society would see, would think about them. But also there was an internal conflict of like, well, I don't really want to seek help. And I don't really want to utilize these utilize these resources, because that goes against what I've been taught to be true.
That's a tough barrier to overcome, also, very much all of those barriers are that you mentioned, what were your findings after you conducted your research?
Unknown Speaker 7:51
During the research, I had asked them, you know, what were the barriers that they experienced? So they shared those things that I that I just kind of shared with you during the research? And then for what were their recommendation? So it was like twofold. I wanted to know what prevented you, but what do you think will help orphans in your similar situation. And so they shared that quality services provided by a designated disability services personnel. So think of it as different departments might have liaisons for special populations. Maybe you have one learning specialist, or one accessibility specialist that works with first generation and college students, or one learning specialist that works with your Med School students or one Sturt, one learning specialist that works with various populations or demographics of students. And so their recommendation was a formalized person that worked with veterans, yes, they can hold a caseload of other students, but that they had one person that they could definitely connect with one person
to go to Sure, that makes very good chance that one person that you can confide in that, you know, you can go talk to when you need to. That makes good sense. Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 8:58
you know, it would prevent them from having to continually retell their story, or retell what it is to the Disability Resource Center. Also, it kind of helps with that confidentiality concerns, because it's one thing to share it with one, but it's another to continue to share it. Even though we all know that we are bound by HIPAA and perp and FERPA to make sure that we are competent. It's still another thing to to have to continuously share your story with someone else. It's hard whether you accept that as a part of who you are, or you do not. It's it's difficult to pin you continuously share things that like barriers that society puts in place that makes it where you can't access your education. They also talked about being available and responsive to student veterans. So they kind of shared this idea that like student veterans aren't going to reach out to you every day of the week. More than likely, you're not going to write from them until things have gone really arrive because they're going to try to do everything that they possibly can And to figure it out themselves before they reach out to you. So when a veteran does return to you, you need to be ready. And you need to be responsive and quick to whether that's emails or appointments. However, it is that your department sees that you should be available to students, but just be available quickly. When a veteran does reach out.
I hadn't really thought about that. But yes, that makes really good sense what you're saying.
Unknown Speaker 10:25
They also talked about proactive networking to increase awareness, which I'm sure that this is definitely something that every disability resource center needs to do or is always continually doing, right. Like, we just want the university or the college population to know that disability services exist to include the veteran population. So whether that's one of the things we've shared was the veterans, us they have a specific preview session or orientation session that they have to attend before they start class. And so maybe the Disability Resource Center person needs to push it in and do a little presentation during that are having them be at different veteran events or in their space, because it's one thing to proactively network. But it's you have to be intentional about your proactive networking for specific demographics of students. Veterans may not be at the Student Union during a typical freshman experience, because typically, veterans are non traditional students. So you have to be in places where
so they do a separate orientation for veterans at the University of Florida.
Unknown Speaker 11:39
So it's set up like every student, and typically their transfer students, every every transfer student has to attend preview or orientation. And within orientation itself, there are different breakout sessions, you know, think of it like it's like a hole. And so the one that is for veterans, make sure that the DRC is pushed into that place.
That's, that's good advice. That's very good advice. I know, that was one of the problems that I ran into, because I work Disability Services on three different campuses. Okay. And I know each of our campuses had a VA representative on each campus. But the third campus that I worked on the VA representative, her office was actually across the hall from me. I mean, we were like, you know, do you need anything, I'm running to the cafeteria, you know, we were right there. And so that fact that we had that kind of a relationship going, really helped. When I would meet the veterans that she referred over to me. So she and I talked quite a bit about disability services, because even the VA representative, she didn't really understand some of the nuances of Disability Services. And so it carries a lot of weight when the Disability Services also establishes, in my opinion, and what I've seen when you can establish a good working relationship with the VA coordinator, because then you can kind of work as a team to be available to events like you're talking about, because there's more than just orientation breakout events and things like that. Sure. That makes good sense.
Unknown Speaker 13:23
Absolutely. That is definitely a part of that proactive networking and your and the different resources that you have. With us being so, so large, you know, we have a lot of different resources to support students. But I think at times, they function in silos, I'm sure that you probably have had a similar experience. Sure, whenever Sure, for so many different resources, you're really good at your own research resource, which is what it's supposed to be right? Like, I'm an expert of this area, right? Right for your area. But it can cause a disconnection that you have to find a way to make those connections come together. And without knowing who those are, and building that relationship, it's going to continue to stay disjointed, because you just don't like have time. Like it's hard. Because those relationships take effort. They take time on staff, and whenever you are already out to the max because you've got a large caseload of students that you're working with. It's very difficult to do those things. And to make those connections however, making those connections are how you're able to support your students holistically so that they don't come to you whenever they're on academic probation. And you're trying to figure out can they even say here?
Absolutely. Is there anything else that you would like to share with the listeners that you have recommendations for their colleges or veterans who are heading to college, any special advice that You want to give?
Unknown Speaker 15:01
Yeah, absolutely, I think it's important to understand that the research that I conducted is very contextualized. It is for the University of Florida, we have a very specific way that we support our veterans. And so I don't want to say that what I found, or what my veterans have shared with me will work for any other college. However, I will say that some of the things that came out are easily applicable, and could be exported in your own setting. And so it may not remedy your issue. If you are having an issue with student veterans reaching out with reaching out to the Disability Resource Center like your last institution, Mickie, the one that you shared about, like, I'm sure that you probably have a better opportunity and connection with the student veterans because you've got that relationship. So other institutions do need to explore what works within their area, or what the concerns are with their student veterans. But I would say that for for the larger implications, these were the recommendations that I that I would give, whether that be to us or to other institutions, it would be hold honors in a veteran center, if you if your institution has a veteran center, or has a place where your veterans congregate, Disability Resource Center should hold office hours there, or they should be there in some capacity, not all the time. Because that's not realistic. It's a touch point that isn't going to cost the university so much money, because what I was trying to keep in mind whenever I was determining my recommendations is what is actually fiscally and staff feasible, because we know that disability services always needs more staff. And so I didn't want to make a recommendation, that wouldn't actually be something that a DRC could do. And so trying to hold some office hours over there don't it's not like you're employing somebody else to go over there, just every so often be over there, attend those events, whether that means you're going to at UF we have a 911 stair climb in the stadium, or that might be going to the veteran Society events, once a semester or once a year to do a presentation, you know, present during orientation. Another thing would be for the Disability Resource Center itself, like like internally, develop a liaison model, figure out who in your DRC is going to be the one that works with a veteran, whether that they have a veteran status or not, does not matter. But who is going to be the veteran students with disabilities person, then also make sure that that person has the capacity to be able to communicate properly with the veterans, when they reach out with their concerns, whether that's their email or holding an appointment, just make sure that they they know in their mind that these are my veterans, these are the ones that I need to be able to make sure that I can respond to quickly. And then last, this one might be a real quick 10 minute change. If you have a disability resource center website, I encourage all better, all VRC websites to have some sort of forward facing statement about confidentiality. For the for us the Disability Resource. Yeah, we have this same page that has is the students would go to about registration, it tells them what do you need to do to get registered, I think there needs to be a statement on that page that every student before they register is going to see that says that your information is going to be kept confidential. It it might already be on your website. You know, I know for the DRC it was there was information about the laws that we that we would abide by to keep information confidential, but it wasn't so in the students face. But I think that if you have just even on that website, they have to and then they're not going to be so worried that they don't even register because they've seen it on that page that that they go to register, you don't have to wonder or worry. Before you get there. I mean, there was definitely a time where, you know, during one of my first meetings with a student veteran, that that was a question. And I had to address that question before we could continue talking and, and I just felt like you know, it would have just been so much better. I could have saved you so much heartache, if you would have known from the beginning that this is confidential. And that's all it takes just just give them a little statement. So they don't know exactly when they scheduled an appointment up until they actually get to talk to you. Like if what I was going to be shared with who because if I didn't know better, I would probably think that, Oh, I'm going to register with the DRC. And that means that I'm going to get something labeled on my transcript or that means that every faculty is going
to know exactly, exactly. Yeah. And that's not the truth. And well, general population. It's something the general population doesn't know. It makes sense that it would also be an issue, especially an issue with the veterans because their experiences are so different from the general population. Especially Those have been in other countries, in war situations, there's so much background and experience that they've had, that the average person hasn't had. And they need to be able to know that they can talk freely, and know that it will stay confidential. That's just soak critical.
Unknown Speaker 20:22
Absolutely. And I think, you know, one of the positives about the vast majority of my recommendations are, they're, they're good for veterans, but they're also good for other students, right, like, so putting a confidentiality Exactly. On that page, like, most students who maybe have been born with a disability, or they've lived with a disability, for the vast majority of their K 12k 12 life, are going to know that there's laws that keep things private, but think about the students that have never had a disability, they've never been diagnosed, maybe they're experiencing a mental health related disability for the first time. And they don't even know that there's laws that's going to keep them that's there out there to protect them. And so putting that into your projections, you know, it just has the population. And then like, the last section, I would say is, you know, work to reduce the stigma of disability. And that is going to be a constant battle that the Disability Resource Center has to fight, but they shouldn't do it alone. And so I would recommend, you know, establishing some sort of professional development for faculty to attend, but collaborate with a Veteran Center staff. So whether that's the VA, or maybe you have someone who oversees the veteran, center, that's a that's a staff person from the institution collaborate so that you can talk about the dis, you know, the Disability Support, and they can talk about the veteran support, and then the faculty know what to do.
That collaboration is so important. It could be short,
Unknown Speaker 21:55
it could be a quick little video that you're able to send out. One of the things that was also shared was like the importance of hearing from other students. So the participants that I had, that I had, they shared about how they learned about the DRC, from their friends, who were using the DRC. And so I recommended that the DRC kind of create success story videos, it doesn't. It's not like inspiration porn, that's not what I mean, it's veterans sharing that this is what this, this is how I got to the DRC. This is what the DRC does. But it's able to come from the veteran student perspective. And if it's recorded, you can reuse it as many times as you need to, it saves money, it saves time, you don't constantly need to find a veteran to go with you somewhere. So recording those videos, you can easily use those. And then as always, always keep up to date with your professional development. DRC needs to constantly participate in, in professional development, the liaison person needs to participate in professional development, that was really
the veteran rules change. And so it's so important to, to have that some sort of professional development built in to where when the rules change, or when the situation changes, that everybody's on the same page that they all know the same thing. So that makes a big difference to plus I think when you're doing accommodations, when you're talking about putting together support videos, this would be a really good opportunity for somebody to talk about how their accommodations made a difference. Yes, I remember I had a veteran with PTSD. And we worked it out for as it was a unique accommodation. But in, in his case, something triggered in that class. And he couldn't anticipate it, it would just happen. And we worked out that he had a special seat wherever he wanted, but he could just step away and step out if he needed to. And that was a simple accommodation, to give him some time to regroup. And even a simple accommodation like that, in a little video would help somebody who's struggling with PTSD. And it just comes on unexpectedly. And so knowing that disability services is something it's something they can help them with. I liked the little the little videos. That's a good idea stories. It's all about the stories because we've all got stories. Very good. Well, Amanda, thank you so very much. Is there anything you would like to add? In closing,
Unknown Speaker 24:33
thank you, again for letting me participate and share my research. If there's a veteran out there listening and you're not sure if you have a disability or you're not sure if the DRC is something that could support you. If you're thinking about going back to higher education or you're already in higher education. I would just say just go talk to them. Just ask because there is a very diverse opportunity for accommodations. But you won't know until you ask. And it doesn't lessen who you are, who you who you are now, who you were with, whenever you were serving. But what it does is it all accommodations do is provide equal access, it's the environment that is wrong, it is not the person that is is causing you from not being able to learn or not be able to perform to the way that you know you can. And so I think it's important for, for veterans or for any person with a disability to understand it's not the person that is prevent that is making it where you can't do something. It's the fact that a society or the place that you're in the environment that you're in, there's things that are, that are barriers that are preventing you and it's the environment that has to change is the idea of if you only have stairs to get into a building, well, it's not that a person needs to use a wheelchair. And so it's the person with the wheelchairs problem. No, it's the fact that you didn't put in, like curb cuts and you don't have a ramp. And those are just fixes that the building in the environment needs to do. Because there's nothing wrong with a person. It's just everybody else needs to realize, like in this one space, I might not need something, but I could be in a completely different space and I need something but it's not because I need it. It's because that environment needs to get on board with me.
Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you, Amanda. Dr. Amanda Jackson,
Unknown Speaker 26:36
broker Raghu beaucoup
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