Disabled Student Services celebrates its 40th anniversary

A small room in the University Student Union with one desk, one staff member and one secretary was all Disabled Student Services had when it first opened its doors to students at Cal State Long Beach.

Now, approaching its 40th anniversary, DSS Director David Sanfilippo, who has worked with DSS for 35 years, said a lot has changed.

“We grew, and we kept growing,” Sanfilippo said about the program, which was originally started as a student committee called Concerns for the Handicapped.

Over the years, he said DSS has grown to a department of 24 full-time and 30 part-time members and went from serving 50 to more than 1,300 students with disabilities.

“I look around my office here, and I have five people who have worked for me for over 20 years,” he said. “Most people have been here a long time. There’s a real commitment and a sense of making a difference in students lives.”

Since its inception, Sanfilippo said DSS has evolved constantly to meet the changing needs of students on campus.

“We’ve seen these peaks and plateaus in terms of different disability categories,” Sanfilippo said. “When I first came here, we saw a steady increase in students with learning disabilities. Then we began to see a large number of students with a psychological disability, probably in the last 10 years.”

Nicole Smith, an autism specialist, said new programs such as Autism Services were introduced by DSS to accommodate the increase in students with a diagnosed disability, which came about due to better assessments.

“I think it’s really exciting that we get to say we’ve been here for 40 years,” Smith said. “It’s really great that there’s a department here that’s available for people with disabilities and maybe thought that they weren’t going to be able to make it in college, and now they’re able to make it and be more successful.”

With advancements in technology, Sanfilippo said, the High Tech Center was opened by DSS in 1986 to assist disabled students by adapting course materials into more accessible formats.

In February, the High Tech Center was transformed into the Accessible Instructional Materials Center, with new facilities in the Academic Services building. The new center works closely with Academic Technology Services to convert course materials to E-text, text-to-speak, large print or literary Braille format, according to Velma Martin, AIM Center Coordinator.

“We started out with one small room with three computers, [and] now we’ve got this big lab,” said Martin, who has worked with DSS for 20 years.

Moving forward, Sanfilippo said DSS aims to spread disability awareness on campus through its newest effort, Project Forethought.

“Often individuals with a disability are an afterthought,” Sanfilippo said. “Our goal is to make it a forethought and to make this campus have that mentality.”

DSS will hold a ‘70s-themed reception from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Friday in the Grand Event Center in Long Beach.

The 40th Anniversary celebration will also host a special reception for the first Rising Star Award, which celebrates student accomplishments and honors outstanding alumni.

Students can contact DSS at (562) 985-5401 or [email protected] to learn more about the services offered.

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