Demystifying Disabilities: New coordinator hopes to connect with faculty

Leo Barrera, the new coordinator of disabled student services, hired this spring, says he looks forward to adding photos of students who have graduated from La Verne to his wall of successful people with disabilities. / photo by Katie Madden
Leo Barrera, the new coordinator of disabled student services, hired this spring, says he looks forward to adding photos of students who have graduated from La Verne to his wall of successful people with disabilities. / photo by Katie Madden

Mariela Patron
Editor in Chief

The expansion of the students with disabilities department and increased workload for Director of Student Health Services and Services for Students with Disabilities Cindy Denne motivated the University to add a coordinator for the disabilities department.

This spring Leo Barrera was hired to coordinate the Disabled Students Services Department. Dean of Student Affairs Loretta Rahmani said this position is designed to help provide disabled students with more services and a fuller experience.

“I think we are looking forward to the new position on staff to really be able to offer programs and services and to really meet (the) needs of our growing number of students with disabilities,” Rahmani said.

Barrera now assists the disabilities department by proctoring exams and providing special accommodations for disabled students, such as converting their textbooks to digital format. His plan is to build a stronger communication between faculty and the disabilities department.

Barrera said he wants faculty and staff to reach out to him with any questions they might have about disabled students.

“It is important for the faculty to realize that we are a trusted center here,” he said.

Barrera has worked with students with disabilities for 10 years. Before working at ULV, he worked as an instructional assistant at Chaffey College and as a youth student assistant at the Employment Development Department.

In 2010, he graduated from ULV with a bachelor’s of science degree in sociology.

“Whether it’s a disabled student or not, just meeting with people and students and seeing where they want to go and hearing their goals, for me, that gets me up in the morning,” he said.

Denne said the department was in need of additional staff. With the addition of Barrera, Denne said she has high expectations for the possibilities of the department.

“I’m hoping (Barrera) will step into a role where he will be appropriately trained to do academic advising,” Denne said. “I think those first two years are important for our students.”

Denne said students will benefit from having someone within the department they can always have access to, which is what Barrera brings.

“Leo has been well received by our students, he has a lot of good questions and a lot of good experience,” Denne said.

Barrera said his experience with students from diverse educational backgrounds and disabilities will help him relate to students at ULV. Since starting three months ago, Barrera, along with Denne and Rahmani, has been working on a handbook for staff and faculty. The handbook will help faculty better understand disabled students’ by matching teaching guidelines with a specific learning or physical disability, Barrera said.

Barrera hopes that an open house for the new facility on E Street will spark the interest of faculty and staff to become more involved with ADA issues and motivate them to participate in workshops he plans to create in the future.

“I want to go up to them with something,” he said. “I want to make sure that I have something to talk about and engage them.”

At Chaffey, Barrera said the college had workshops for both students and faculty. Faculty workshops taught professors how to engage disabled students in class.

“If I get professors and other staff involved on campus, it’s this whole idea that comes not just from me, but from professors that have a different perspective,” he said. “It encapsulates everybody’s perspective that serves the students here in the program.”

Barrera said possible workshops could help faculty and staff further understand ADA laws and introduce the concept of universal planning – a set of principles designed to set a curriculum for all learning styles.

Barrera is also collecting data to help aim the disabilities department aim its goals to the largest demographics at the University. With accurate demographics, faculty and staff can begin to understand how many disabled students ULV actually has, Barrera said.

Mariela Patron can be reached at mariela.patron@laverne.edu.

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