Lisa Hughes was running a little late for an interview, but for good reason.

A student with mobility issues had a class on the far side of campus, and was unsure how to get there. Hughes drove the student to class as a short-term measure, and then began working on a long-term solution. Could the class be moved to a more accessible location? What venues were available?

SUNY Broome’s Accessibility Resources Office (ARO) tackles issues such as this, and helps to create a level playing field for students with disabilities. To obtain accommodations, students self-identify and then provide documentation of their disability from a qualified professional. They then meet with an ARO specialist to create an accessibility plan that identifies the services and accommodations they need.

“We try to see what’s in the way and see if we can find a way around,” explained Hughes, the Learning Disabilities coordinator for the Learning Assistance Department, of which ARO is a part. “The idea is to level the playing field for that student.”

Both physical and cognitive disabilities are covered under ARO’s program.  Typical accommodations include longer times for tests, note-takers for class, sign-language interpreters, alternative format textbooks, computer software and other assistive technology. ARO also provides self-advocacy training, skills coaching and instruction in learning and study strategies.

The center typically sees about 500 students per semester – Fall 2013 saw 491 students and Spring 2014, 449 —  and is currently expecting about 600 this year. The reason for the increase: ARO has drawn its largest contingent of freshmen — 225 students, 70 more than last year. Typically, the center usually sees students during their first year; by the second year, students simply use the accommodations that were developed.

Student disabilities reported to ARO are 76 percent cognitive, 12 percent visual, mobility or other health-related, 9 percent mental health and 3 percent deaf or hard of hearing, according to data. Students are aided by more than 167 student workers, including 145 note-takers, as well as professionals.

Obstacles can lurk in unlikely places. For a student with severe dyslexia, a required online-only course can pose serious difficulties; such a student will need assistance in accessing the textual information and rendering their own class responses into text. Such courses can be made more accessible through the use of videos: of student responses, the instructor’s lectures and more.

Students who use ARO services tend to finish their degrees, although they often take a semester longer than their peers to do so. The service plays a critical role in ensuring student success.

Graduates who have used ARO services are now working as paramedics and firefighters, dental hygienists and engineers, teachers and social workers, Hughes said. They come from all majors and disciplines, Hughes noted.

“Our retention rate is higher than the college overall,” she said. “They tend to finish.”