Thursday, June 2, 2016

Visiting the University Accessibility Center

This post is part of my Mental Health & University Series. To start from the beginning, click here.

After visiting a professional and being diagnosed with a mental health condition, it's often useful to visit the University Accessibility Center, or UAC. (Note: my goal by the end of this post is to spell "accessibility" correctly on the first try.)

The UAC can provide you with accommodations if your mental illness has a negative effect on your schoolwork. (It also provides accommodations for physical disabilities and other issues.) Some examples of accommodations are:

  • Someone to take notes for you in class.
  • Extra time on exams.
  • Exams divided into smaller sections, which are taken individually.
  • Flexibility with exam dates.
  • Leniency with absences.
  • Flexibility with due dates for assignments.
  • The ability to take exams in a distraction-free room.
A full list of accommodations available at BYU can be found here. Usually, students only need a few accommodations, but having them can make a world of difference.

I went a few semesters after getting diagnosed with depression and anxiety before visiting the UAC. During that time, some of my professors were willing to give me extensions on homework or exams after I explained the situation to them, but some of them were not. Having official UAC accommodations gives the professor a deeper obligation to provide you with the help you need.

When you receive the accommodations, you get a letter on official BYU letterhead addressed to each of your professors, which explains that the University Accessibility Center has determined that you need accommodations X, Y, and Z. Oftentimes, mental illness is seen as a less legitimate excuse than physical illness. This letter can help reassure your professor that you aren't just "making it all up." Furthermore, the letter doesn't give your professors any details about why you need the accommodations; just that you do, and how to go about providing them.

To meet with the UAC, you first need to fill out some intake paperwork, which is available here. The paperwork is really, really long, and trying to fill it out with a mental illness kind of feels like walking to the hospital to get your broken leg fixed. If you have trouble with motivation or attention span, I would suggest breaking it into small chunks, or enlisting the help of a friend or family member.

After that, you call them at 801-422-2767 and set up an appointment. At the time of your appointment, you need some sort of documentation of your disability, such as a letter from your counselor or a form filled out by a doctor. This documentation needs to be current — within the last two years for most mental illnesses, the last five years for ADHD, or the last seven years for a learning disorder. A full list of possible documentation can be found here.

During your appointment, they'll probably go over the intake paperwork with you. They also discuss how you're currently dealing with your condition, and what "strategies" you can use. Frankly, I found myself getting irritated during this discussion, but I understand why they have it; they don't necessarily know how many times you've seen a counselor, or whether your doctor discussed it with you beyond explaining how much medication to take. Accommodations can only go so far; you have to use them effectively.

Anyways, after they finish re-telling you how to manage your mental illness, they'll discuss accommodations with you and decide on which ones would be helpful. They'll ask you how many copies of the letter to your professor you'll need, and you come back in a few days to pick it up. The accommodations are valid for two years, and you can get letters every semester by asking at the front desk. After your accommodations have expired, you can meet with them again and get them renewed.

When you get the letter, it's up to you to deliver them to your professor. I personally felt a little awkward about it, but I found it was pretty low-key to just show up to class a few minutes early and hand them the letter while saying, "I was supposed to give this to you." If they want to talk about it, they will; if not, you can just go sit down.

Personally, I think visiting the UAC is a good idea so you can cover all of your bases and feel more legitimized in asking your professor for the help you need.

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