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Supporting Students with Disabilities at California's El Camino Community College

By Teresa Whelley and Lucinda Aborn

El Camino Community College in El Camino, California, is one of 108 colleges in the California Community College System and offers nearly 2,500 classes in 850 programs including online and televised courses. El Camino Community College established a special program to assist students with disabilities in their pursuit of a postsecondary education in 1972 called the Special Resource Center. The purpose of the program was to assist students with disabilities to perform on an equal basis with non-disabled students in an integrated campus setting. Over 1,200 students are currently receiving services. El Camino has exemplary supports and services for the students with disabilities because of the range of supports, the flexibility of the delivery of these supports, the collaboration within the college and with the community, and accountability measures that are an integral part of the delivery of supports.

The Program

The SRC provides an instructional component as well as support services. Because of the strength of those two programs working in concert, the program then provides the leadership and a higher level of service to students with disabilities. And that helps us with our ancillary projects with career development, community partnerships, and then increased service provision through the interpreter training. The main elements are instruction, support services, and cooperative partnerships. Current and long-term goals are reflected in the vision statement: "The mission of El Camino College is to meet the educational needs of our diverse community and ensure student success by offering quality, comprehensive educational opportunities" (SRC Handbook, cover).

The SRC team is made up of the director, who oversees support services including all certified instructors, and counselors and administrative support. The support service supervisor oversees 25 hourly hire interpreters and captionists, and the visual and hearing impaired student advisor. The alternate media supervisor oversees the adaptive computer specialist and the advisor for students with physical disabilities. The program coordinator for the tutorial project oversees and monitors the tutors who provide assistance to the students who require tutoring. Under the certificated instructors and counselors domain there is a Deaf specialist, physical disabilities technology specialist, two learning disabilities specialists, a counselor, two sign language interpreters, and a teacher aide who oversees the sign language lab.


Collaborative efforts are essential. Successful student integration on campus begins with the partnerships students build as they integrate into whatever academic major and activity they want to pursue. The SRC is like an invisible support in many cases, behind-the- scenes services that are offered to all students with disabilities at El Camino College. As an example, the director of the High Tech Center was able to integrate assistive technology into all of the computer labs across campus. Other partnerships, such as those with the learning assistance classes and educational development courses in subjects like English and math, also exist. Another collaboration is between the dean of the school of natural sciences and the SRC resulting in a co-taught course with a biology instructor and an SRC instructor. Collaborative efforts happen at all levels. The Learning Resource Center collaborated on the purchase of assistive software and the library was the first in the state to designate space called the "Access Room" with scanners, online card catalogs, and assistive devices that allow students to access material in alternate formats. Eight years ago, the El Camino library was remodeled with that access space included.

Collaboration efforts outside of El Camino come in the form of support from industry and job placement. Industry has contributed significantly. The SRC receives funding every year that goes to the High Tech Center, and through the efforts of the physical disabilities specialist at the High Tech Center, the program received most of the equipment in its vision center through company donations. The SRC also has strong connections with the Workforce Investment and One Stop programs, which help students with some of their job search strategies.


The primary objective of the SRC is to assist students with disabilities to succeed to the best of their abilities in their academic programs. This is accomplished through a combination of supports and the promotion of individual goal-setting, personal assertiveness, and progressive independence.

There are a variety of supports, services, and specialized technological devices to facilitate the process of reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities at El Camino Community College. Supports at a minimum include advanced orientation, liaison, and testing assistance; counseling services; disability-specific registration and advisement assistance; and instructional aide support. Services offered to students with disabilities include learning disability assessments, transcription service, textbooks recorded on tape, readers, real-time captioning, and Braille reading material. Technological devices include Kurzweil reading machines, a large print typewriter, a Perkins Brailler, a large- print copier, talking calculators, illuminated magnifiers, and videotape recorders. The evaluators are essential at El Camino because their assessments provide the information necessary to appropriate and needed supports and services for individual students. Equally important is the certificated faculty member who identifies the functional limitations of the student and the student's academic program so the classified professional can then carry out the implementation of the support services that are needed. And that ebbs and flows: while El Camino College provides a majority of the services on campus, it also has students in employment settings. There are students who take classes at One Stops and are provided support there. One of the school's Deaf students is on the football team, so a SRC staff member goes to the away games. The SRC provides the necessary supports wherever the student is so the student develops their compensatory strategies and remedial skills. Ultimately, student success is the program's mission as it advocates, coordinates, and serves in a way intended to bring the most benefit to the student.


Accountability is a major factor in the success of the SRC and the students at El Camino College. There's accountability across the board from the hourly casual worker who goes out to the classroom to interpret, and, if the student doesn't show up, will come back and mark "no show" in the records, all the way up to their supervisors or coordinators and the director. Several forms of tracking are used at the SRC, including accountability procedures and tracking forms. Occasionally the state provides the guidelines. For example, state guidelines for distance education and alternative media offerings influence SRC policy development, forms, and procedures. Some accountability processes are driven by mandates and some of them are just to help the SRC organize itself and work smarter.


There are four shortcomings with the program that have been identified by staff. First, there is a need to serve students with psychiatric disabilities better. The SRC needs to spend more time recruiting and being proactive in assisting these students to manage their educational process; the students are often caught between hospitals and treatment programs and need help to engage educationally. Second, another group, students with developmental disabilities, appears to be caught between two mandates. The Community College System of California has declared itself an open system, meaning entry to all, yet students need to meet minimal levels of academic rigor to stay. There is a need for the school to offer the supports that enable students with developmental disabilities to succeed in higher education. The third cited shortcoming is alternative media. The state has developed standards with which El Camino is only just beginning to comply. It is now the entire college's responsibility to comply, not just the SRC's. And finally, incipient though begun, relationships with the community need to be strengthened to yield better job placements for the graduates of El Camino Community College.

Teresa Whelley is Assistant Professor and Research Coordinator with the National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports, Center on Disability Studies, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu. She may be reached at 808/956-9142 or Lucinda Aborn is Director of the Special Resource Center, El Camino Community College, El Camino, California. She may be reached at 310/660-3296 or


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Citation: Gaylord, V., Johnson, D.R., Lehr, C.A., Bremer, C.D. & Hasazi, S. (Eds.). (2004). Impact: Feature Issue on Achieving Secondary Education and Transition Results for Students with Disabilities, 16(3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from


The print design version (PDF, 671 K, 36 pp.) of this issue of Impact is also available for free, complete with the color layout and photographs. This version looks the most like the newsletter as it was printed.

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