A two lane road, the potential of success


With a student focus ideology, students at The University of Southern Maine spoke their minds about their experiences they have held with the Disability Service Center (DSC). To allow for complete clarity, I first want you to understand what DSC is and what they do as a department on campus.

Joanne Benica, Director of Disability Service Center (DSC), has held the position of director for close to twenty years, with the first ten at the American University in Baltimore, Maryland. She had been the director of DSC for close to ten years at The University of Southern Maine. Benicia Graduated from Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania in 1994 with a Bachelors in social work, she went on to take a five year hiatus and resumed her academic career at the University of Arkansas in 1999 and graduated in 2001 with a Masters degree in rehabilitation counseling.

To Joanne Benica it isn’t a title but an eagerness to be hands-on when it comes to meeting with students, forming an action plan, and following through with acquiring the right accommodations. Benicia works alongside Associate Director, Adrea Jaehnig, and Learning Specialist William Ferreira to meet one on one with each student to determine if someone needs accommodation(s) to pass a “barrier” in their path. Although those are three names to know, the department wouldn’t be student focused without the staff, graduate student(s), and student staff. Rebecca Gray is the administrative specialist, Stacey Brownlie is the accommodation coordinator, Leila Rollins and Amelia Pretrucci are both graduate students.

During my conversation with Director Joanne Benica, she pointed out that there are many resources on campus(s) available to every student; the Learning Commons, the University’s Health and Counseling Services, and the Disability Service Center (DSC). In addition to partnerships with departments throughout the university, Benica stated that the department “partners with multiple offices on campus, because of a shared responsibility to provide access for students with a disability.” Some of the partnerships include but not limited to, Faculty and Advising, Health and Counseling Center, the Dean of Students, Public Safety, Facilities, Jobs for Maine grads (JMG), and Trio.

The DSC is centrally located on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus, in room 242 Luther Bonney Hall. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 4:30 thought more “realistically” like 8:00 to 5:30. They can be reached via email, zoom, face to face interactions, or you can fill out the form on the website to seek an

“It is a place where we work towards an inclusive community on campus.” -Joanne Benica, director of Disability Service Center.

A standard meeting with DSC will typically last closer to an hour. During the meeting they assess the barrier(s) at hand, accessing if they “might impede learning,” that is a task the DSC office must complete as they are “charged with facilitating accommodations for students,” and determining what is a “visual” and “non-visual”
disability. Visual disability; something you witness immediately. Whereas Non-Visual; is something you don’t immediately perceive or “see”.

In the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, “disability” is defined; “The term “disability” means, with
respect to an individual,

(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life
activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such an impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).”

This is the definition that Benica referenced to when asked about what the DSC would classify as being a disability. However in her own words, described it as two lanes; The medical model and the social model. The medical model refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whereas the social model refers to diversity and discrimination.

Now I was granted the liberty to speak to several different University of Southern Maine Students (USM), about their own experiences and thoughts about DSC.

Student A:
An anonymous USM student interacted with DSC a couple of times throughout these last several months. According to said student their experience with the department was “very unpleasant,” all because of a singularity in their response. For clarification after reviewing all the proper paperwork emailed this student with great news, that their “documentation did meet the threshold,” for the item in question. However not even twelve minutes later this student received a followup email stating that “there was an error” in the previous email. Ultimately crushing this student’s moment of joy and pure bliss just to be replaced with despair and discomfort.

In my own conversation with the Director of Disability Service Center, she stated that those with a previous 504 or IEP plan from high school should take an initiative to reach out. However this poor interaction startled this student and is now greatly hesitant to reach out for academic accommodations, with the fear of being turned away again.

Student B:
Another USM student, of whom wishes to remain anonymous, has also had several interactions with DSC. This student told me that they felt helpless during and even after their meeting with the Disability Service Center, “I thought I would receive accommodations that would make me capable of succeeding in school. However I feel like
my disabilities are just seen as laziness. It didn’t feel like they were trying to help me individually and only wanted to give me a pre-prescribed plan.” This is an unfortunate situation that many students are facing currently.

This same USM student had to reach out to their professor when a personal situation arose compromising their ability to succeed and abide by deadlines. The response they received by their professor, in short, was asking them to touch base with their accommodation specialist. However that same specialist heavily “encouraged” them to find a solution without their assistance. According to this student they feel that their specialist is “just doing a job, compared to actually wanting to help people.”

Student C:
This USM student has had several dozen different interactions with the Disability Service Center since they committed to the university. This student would rate their interactions with DSC as being “very good,” because they have always been really helpful and accommodating to these students’ necessities. Speaking from the heart this student felt that “they made me feel like I was someone… that I was a person… that I was an individual not just a college student. And that I belonged, they gave me a sense of belonging.” With the interactions they’ve had with DSC this student feels like their accommodations were met, especially when it came to talking to residential life and

Students D:
Of many of the students that gave me their input, was one USM student that had to seek an accommodation from DSC last academic year. This student’s interaction with DSC was “good, it was excellent,” that was primarily due to the accommodations provided and DSC’s “willingness to accommodate.” It was evident to this student that DSC met their standards and helped them feel “excellent,” and comfortable.

Student E:
One of the many USM students I had the liberty to speak to, has had several interactions with the Disability Service Center ranging from the various emails, zooms, and even in person encounters. According to them, the interactions they held were “mediocre,” as they were able to provide some basic necessities but weren’t able to create a tailored plan for this student. One of the accommodations this student requested was granted and has since
greatly helped this student be closer to the feeling of success and prosperity needed to thrive in college. Though one of the accommodations they desired was simply forgotten about.

Student F:
These USM student’s, who wish to remain anonymous, have held numerous encounters and conservations with the Disability Service Center in the time they’d been committed to the university. After these interactions they feel like their needs have not been met by the Disability Service Center. Though both students had experienced radio silence from the staff at the Disability Service Center. No matter how many times they reached out.

Whether it was a phone call, an email, or even a zoom meeting invite there was no response or reason given to explain their lack of communication. Both students expressed their feelings during our interview; Student one:“in general USM preaches about mental health but they don’t take it seriously.”

Student two:

“It is ironic of them, they are supposed to accommodate anyone’s needs but they neglected to respond to my roommates emails or my own.” These students wish the counselors and staff were more present and willing to help the students that seek them out. In the long run because of their lack of communication these students are more hesitant to reach out now for the accommodation that’d help them succeed and would likely shy away from seeking their assistance when in need of help down the road with the fear of being “ignored.” Although these are just the thoughts and encounters of six separate USM students, their feelings and experiences should not be ignored. Now, the DSC can’t provide accommodations for everyone who contacts them, though they will try. If you feel you qualify for a possible accommodation follow this link to the website to fill out
the online form.


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