October is Accessibility Awareness Month

  Friday, October 4, 2019
  Community, Around Campus

By Maria Elena Hernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV’s Student Accessibility Services office offers a broad range of resources, including for pregnant students. But many have no idea just how diverse the services are.

“We are a little surprised when students say, ‘I thought this was an office just for students with physical and mobility impairments,’” said Tonya Paulette, director of Student Accessibility Services.

For example, accommodations for pregnant students can include extended deadlines and leave from class. Services also are available for new parents for about 12 weeks after a child’s birth or adoption.

“As a new parent, there’s a lot of adjustment,” Paulette said.

She said that, in addition to assisting pregnant students, they can help people with chronic health conditions and physical impairments.

“We serve students with all types of disabilities, and that’s everything from learning disabilities to mental health, like anxiety and depression,” she said.

That can also include a student with short-term impairments, like a broken arm.

“Some of the types of services we provide really focus on academic accommodations,” she said.

Assistance can include extended time for an assignment or materials in braille.

“It really depends on the needs of the student,” Paulette said.

Sign language interpretation is one service students may be familiar with; interpreters seen in classes are provided by Student Accessibility Services.

Taking class notes is another form of help offered.

“There's a process we go through to identify a volunteer in the same class,” the director said. “When that’s absolutely not available, we work with the student to make sure there is another resource available for them.”


Tonya Paulette, director of Student Accessibility Services
Tonya Paulette, director of Student Accessibility Services

In higher education, students with a disability must self-identify by contacting a university's Student Accessibility Services office to set up an appointment and provide documentation.

Given the correct documentation, the office can start providing services to a student within a week or two.

Services do not carry over from high school, Paulette said, and the process for university students is different.

“We find that, lots of times, students will come to the university from high school, and even though they had accommodations there, they may not register with us their first semester. They may even go through that first year before they realize they really do need to continue (with accessibility assistance),” she said.

She encourages students to contact the office even if they’re not sure a condition qualifies them for accessibility service.

There are Student Accessibility Services offices on the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses.

“We can confirm whether or not a specific condition would be something that might qualify,” she said.


In a typical fall or spring semester, about 450 UTRGV students use Student Accessibility Services. The office is working to bring awareness about its services and the students who use them during October, which is Accessibility Awareness Month.

During the first week of this month, the Humans of UTRGV Facebook page featured students with disabilities. Events later in the month will include an assistive technology fair and a student discussion panel. Details about upcoming events will be shared on the UTRGV Student Accessibility Services Facebook page.

For more information about the office and its services, visit utrgv.edu/accessibility.

UTRGV Student Accessibility Services
UTRGV Student Accessibility Services


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.