Past, Present and Future

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 section 504 was still in its infancy when the removal of barriers to higher education for individuals with disabilities began throughout the United States.  In 1976, the Office for the Disabled was founded as a student-organized reader coordination service for a few visually impaired students on campus in a small office in Paley Library.  Temple University responded to the national legislative change in support of individuals with disabilities in higher education and established Disabled Student Services in 1977 with Joan Austin as director, and moved the office to its own quarters in the basement of the Student Activities Center. Alpha Chi Rho Fraternity provided volunteer community service hours to assist fellow classmates with disabilities navigate the campus, access reading material, take notes in class and, most notably, raise money for equipment and renovations to the campus to improve access.  

Removing the Barriers

In 1978, Disabled Student Services moved to a permanent location at 1828 Park Mall.  One of the first major challenges of the newly established office was the inaccessibility of Temple’s campuses and the obstacles it presented for students to access academic programs, activities and services. Under the strategic leadership of Mary Ryan, director, and Larry Wells, assistant director, the architectural barrier removal program became responsible for overseeing the final plans for renovation projects throughout the era, opening up Temple’s Main, Ambler and Tyler campuses.  This initiative transformed the landscape of the campus and established Temple University as a model among regional colleges and universities.

Meeting the Challenges

With the steady growth of the disabled student population, the office evolved to reflect the preferred language of the changing disability culture and the diverse needs of the population.  Dorothy Cebula was appointed director in 1993 and under her leadership the office name changed to Disability Resources and Services and moved into its present location at 100 Ritter Annex, a more spacious facility that allows better access to service offerings.  Dr. Cebula was instrumental in introducing Total Technology Access to the university community, making assistive technology available across computer labs throughout the campus.

Student Services and Support

In response to an increase in student engagement with Disability Resources and Services, the office expanded its staff of trained full-time professionals and part-time sign language interpreters. John Bennett became director in 2007 and developed projects that involved the entire university community in accessibility by promoting inclusive teaching and technology, as well as student self-advocacy.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation has recognized Temple University every year since 1981 for providing exemplary services to students with disabilities by awarding grants totaling more than $1.3 million for scholarships to assist students with tuition, tutoring, equipment, internships, and other disability related expenses. A longstanding partnership between Disability Resources and Services and the Career Center continues to provide career development and employment opportunities for students and alumni with disabilities.

A Vision of Inclusion

The steady increase in students with disabilities from 50 in 1977 to around 3,500 in 2020 is a credit to Temple’s program accessibility and services. The university remains rooted in its commitment to student services, engagement, and leadership, and Disability Resources and Services continues to advocate for full access in all aspects of the student experience. The Temple Adapted Recreation and Sports program, established in 1985, was the only one of its kind among colleges and universities on the east coast.  Newly designed residence halls on main campus feature a variety of accessible room options. Student organizations from the Templians to Eye to Eye give a student voice to disability pride and advocacy at the university. We continue to work toward the vision of a learning community that values people with diverse abilities and demonstrates through its actions a deep commitment to the full inclusion of all its members.

Thank you for experiencing our past, and we look forward to sharing the future.