Kathy Prose notices things about her surroundings now that she never used to. Whether she is at the supermarket or on campus between classes, Prose finds herself asking a new question about the buildings and walkways she sees: Are these accessible for everyone?
Working at Oregon State University’s Disability Access Services is what made Prose begin to think differently about things she took for granted in her day-to-day life.
“I’ve really learned that not a lot of places are accessible for people with disabilities,” Prose, a senior majoring in English, says. “You don’t realize that when you’re an able-bodied person who can hear and see and move independently of other people.”
Prose began working at DAS after her roommate, another DAS employee, recommended her for a job in the office. Prose quickly realized it was the perfect place for her.
“I really liked the idea that it wasn’t just a job, it was actually helping people, other people benefited from me getting paid to do something,” Prose says.
The DAS mission is to give disabled students the same opportunities to succeed that other students have. DAS provides disabled students with accessible versions of text, videos and classroom lectures, alternative testing, lecture notes and academic coaching, in addition to other services. Prose’s responsibilities have included converting textbooks to e-text CDs, captioning videos, proctoring tests and performing reception work in the DAS office.
“Ultimately it boils down to working with people,” Prose says. “I really love that it’s helping other people. It’s enriching another student’s experience at OSU.”
But there’s even more value to Prose’s experience – the skills she’ll carry into her professional life after graduation. Being able to multitask, work both independently and as part of a team, communicate with others and complete projects efficiently are all skills Prose says she has been able to cultivate and improve while working at DAS.
Maureen Childers, DAS coordinator for alternative formats, says the skills students learn while working at DAS are those that will be required of them in the professional world.
“They need to be able to come in and figure out what the priority is and start doing their work,” Childers says. “They’re learning what it’s like to work in an office, how to communicate, what tools they’re going to need and how to change hats. They might start one project and our priorities might change during the shift and they have to pick up another project.”
Being able to adapt to different tasks has been an important skill for former student worker Laura Steiger, who has worked as a note taker, a test proctor and an office assistant at DAS during her time at OSU.
“I can definitely relate any situation that I’ve had to something that I’ve done at DAS, because my job required me to think on my feet and come up with solutions all the time,” Steiger says. “It’s really been helpful just to be so flexible because that’s really something employers look at, is whether or not you’re flexible to do other things.”
Steiger is a senior currently finishing her degree in public health with an internship in Oregon Health and Science University’s Infection Control Department where she tracks medical samples using Excel, a program she worked with at DAS.
Steiger says her experience with computers, communication and managing a variety of tasks at DAS was strong preparation for the work she is doing at OHSU, and she is more confident about applying for jobs because she was able to develop many of the required skills for professional positions during her time at DAS.
According to Childers, the variation in job duties is an intentional part of the training process at DAS, where around 12 students are usually employed to work in the office.
“We try to cross-train our students because we have a lot of different programs in our office,” Childers says. “They learn more than just the little piece that they’re working on at the time; they have the opportunity to learn different things.”
Haris Gunadi, DAS Technology and Production Support Services program manager, says the flexibility to work both individually and in a team environment is key to success for DAS student employees, who must collaborate about independent work to complete projects such as captioning long videos or using several software programs to produce an e-text.
“They have to adhere to a certain standard,” Gunadi says. “They have to work with other people to make sure that standard is the same everywhere.”
In the future, Prose wants to use the skills she’s acquired at DAS as a hotel owner or creator of a charitable organization.
“Getting your degree is typically in lieu of experience, but I’m getting experience and a degree, which is really going to put me ahead I feel,” Prose says. “To be able to put this on my résumé will be huge.”
In addition to building skills to be successful in a career setting, Prose says she has developed a greater perspective while working at DAS, which will impact her choices in the future. If she does go on to own a chain of hotels, Prose guarantees the buildings will be fully accessible for those with disabilities.