DSO is an acronym that stands for “disability services office,” but be aware that schools call this office by many different names.  As you type “DSO” into the search box on your school’s website, you may find that terms like “student services” appear. But no matter what it’s called, you’ll want to acquaint yourself with this office and what it can do for you.As its name suggests, the DSO serves students and staff who have a documented disability by offering tools and materials to make all parts of the campus accessible.For instance, a DSO can convert materials for a student who is blind or visually impaired into a readable format, or can provide an alternative test-taking environment.If you live on campus, a DSO can offer accommodations to make the dormitory more accessible or can modify arrangements in the cafeteria, gym or other recreational facility.And a particularly helpful DSO will coach students who are new to advocating for themselves with their instructors, or will give them the tools they might need to advocate independently.

By Learning Ally on Thursday, Nov 30, 2017


When should I register with the DSO?

Start early. First, think about how much help you will need from a DSO. Most people need a lot of support with technology and with advocating for themselves with faculty, especially during the first year of college. If you are part of this majority, it’s a good idea to interview a DSO even before you’ve submitted your application to a college or university. Ask what kinds of services are in place for students who are blind or visually impaired and what kind of support you can expect on campus.

If you’ve already applied to colleges or have chosen your college without weighing its DSO as a factor, contact that office as soon as possible to introduce yourself and to provide any documentation about your disability that it might need. Most offices prefer as much lead time as possible, especially if they are helping you to obtain books for the semester.

What kind of documentation do I need?

Documentation requirements vary among disability offices. An office that assumes that if you are using a cane, you must have a good reason for it may exist, but this is probably the exception rather than the rule. Most offices will want a report from your doctor, explaining the nature and degree of your visual impairment and the types of accommodations you might need. However, your doctor may not actually know your educational needs, so an office may request additional documentation from your teacher of students with visual impairments. When you arrive for your first meeting with your DSO, be sure to arrive at the office with a firm understanding of what tools and support you need and why you need them.

What should I prepare for my first DSO meeting?

Many DSOs tend to react rather than to initiate. The reason for this is that colleges provide services and supports under very different laws than those that directed your services in grade school. Once you become a college student, it is your responsibility to contact the DSO. That is very different than secondary school, where teachers of students with visual impairments find you and know what you need. So don’t expect to just hand over your documentation and sit back waiting for a plan. The meeting with the DSO is an interactive process: they are getting to know you and you are getting to know them. Come to your meeting with answers to the following questions, and with any information that you think people need to know to give you the support and help you feel you need:

  • How do I learn best?
  • With print, braille, audio, or a combination of these methods?
  • If I use more than one type of learning media, which of the three is my primary (preferred) method of learning, and which method, if any, is my secondary method of learning?
  • What kinds of technology do I use regularly?
  • What kinds of technology will I need this office to provide?
  • How do I plan to take notes during class?
  • How will I conduct research for papers?
  • How do I plan to study for exams?
  • What accommodations will I need to take my exams?
  • Having preliminary answers to these questions will help your meeting run more smoothly. Your DSO can tell you what kind of support it can provide, as well as any university policies about exams or equipment.
  • What about textbooks?

You may be able to find most or all of your books through Learning Ally or Bookshare. But for those books you can’t locate, Some DSO’s have the resources to scan books and convert them into a readable format for you. In this case, you will need to provide a copy of the book so the office can scan it. Other offices will contact the book’s publisher to get an electronic file for you. In general, the office will require that you submit a receipt showing that you purchased your book before they will contact a publisher. Whether the office scans a book or contacts a publisher, the final product, your converted book, will not arrive instantly, so whatever you do, give as much lead time to the office as possible so that you don’t fall behind!

Anything else?

Your DSO can be a critical partner in your educational progress, so putting time and thought into how best to use its resources and staff is worth the effort. If you’re prepared to give the DSO the tools it needs to provide you with what it has to offer, you’ll be developing what can be a key source of support for yourself.

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