By KATE SELTZER
UMW needs increased staffing to accommodate students with disabilities.
Jessica Machado, who took over as Director of the Office of Disability Resources (ODR) this fall, said that the office is currently too small to keep up with the growing population of eligible students and demand for resources.
“The biggest barrier I see is lack of resources, [such as] staff, space, and funding,” Machado said. “There’s a lot of great skills and experience in our ODR office, but we’re very limited in that we’re a small office [consisting of] student workers, office manager, assistant director, [and] director.”
In a report delivered to the Board of Visitors last month, Machado found that UMW has a higher percentage of students registered with the ODR than any other Virginia public college or university. The number of students eligible to receive benefits from the ODR has grown by 7.3 percent over the past year and is projected to continue to climb.
The same report states that UMW has a far higher than recommended student-to-staff ratio. According to the Association on Higher Education and Disability, the recommended caseload for the ODR is 100:1 students to staff. Presently, UMW has a student to staff ratio of 252:1, although this statistic does not account for additional support services outside of the ODR.
“I think that there’s a lot of great work being done and that there are many people here at UMW that work hard for students with disabilities,” Machado said. “That said, with a growing population of students with disabilities, there is a great need for increased staffing to support students with disabilities (in ODR and across the UMW campus community) and resources to support this work.”
In addition to increased staffing within the ODR, Machado spoke of a need for two new high-level positions outside of the office. She said these staff members would aid in “coordinat[ing] services and promot[ing] inclusivity for the campus as a whole.”
Machado is trained as a psychologist and was previously the director of the George Mason Autism Support Initiative Program. She hopes to use this background to “develop stronger supports for students with disabilities.”
“I hope to use the experience I have developing and directing a program for targeted groups of students by developing targeted programming here at UMW to support our students and the UMW retention efforts,” Machado said.
She also hopes to continue to promote “the understanding here at UMW that disability is an important component of diversity,” as well as making the ODR “a positive and welcoming environment” for all who utilize its services.
Jessica Machado’s favorite part of the job is working with students. However, she says that it is difficult to expand the office to fully meet the needs of all students with its current resources.
“Being a small office in high-demand, it’s very difficult to find the time to move the office forward,” Machado said. “In order to move forward, we need more support.”