Each and every day, Saint Leo University strives to provide a higher education and fulfilling college experience to students of all backgrounds. This includes students who have a physical or cognitive disability that may require them to have reasonable accommodations in order for them to thrive throughout their college careers.

That's why Saint Leo University maintains an Office of Accessibility Services (OAS) on its University Campus located on the first floor of Kirk Hall. This office serves students on campus, online, and those taking classes at one of the university's education centers in seven states.

We recently caught up with Michael Bailey, director of Saint Leo's Office of Accessibility Services, to learn about what services his team currently offers.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I earned two bachelor's degrees - a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Tampa and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of South Florida. I also have a Master of Arts in Special Education with a concentration in Behavioral Disorders from the University of South Florida and a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from the American College of Education. I am currently a doctoral candidate at USF earning a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.

Q: What is your professional background?

A: I spent 12 years working in Pasco County Schools. I started out as a special education teacher primarily working with students with significant cognitive disabilities. I also spent time as a resolution specialist ensuring all students received the services they were entitled to in the school system. My last position before coming to Saint Leo University was as the senior supervisor for special programs where I oversaw all programming for special education and ESOL in the school district.

Q: How did you come to Saint Leo University?

A: I think I always wanted to work in a postsecondary setting. My doctoral chair encouraged me to explore my options and this position seemed like a perfect fit for me. I honestly knew halfway through the interview that this was where I wanted to be. I was lucky enough to be hired and started this past April.

Q: What are your main duties as director of the Office of Accessibility Services?

A: My number-one job duty is to ensure all of our students have access to everything our university offers. This includes students at our University Campus, our Education Centers, and those pursuing online degree programs. I want to remove any barriers that might be in the way of students fully accessing everything our University has to offer.

On the academic side, I help ensure students have the reasonable accommodations they need. The faculty have been so willing to work together and hungry to learn how they can assist any students who may need accommodations to help them fully access their courses. It has been incredibly rewarding to work with such a passionate and committed faculty. But it doesn't just stop there. I'm also responsible for ensuring students have access to fully participate in clubs, recreation, sporting events, and for making sure they can access all of our facilities. It gives me the opportunity to collaborate with so many wonderful people who truly care about the success of our students.

Q: Who are your team members?

A: We are currently a team of three. My other two team members are Brittany Leigh, who is our alternative formatting coordinator, and Janet Van Guilder, our senior coordinator.

Brittany has been beyond great. She's been with our office for a few years now and is incredible with assistive technology. She has also filled in as interim director at times. Janet is an amazing resource for our students. She came to us from another office in Student Affairs and has a true passion for helping students.

In addition, we do have student workers who assist us throughout the year.

Q: Where is the Office of Accessibility Services located?

A: Our office has moved from its previous location to the back hallway of Kirk Hall. We are now in Kirk Hall 113.

Of course, for students who are off campus, we can always be reached by phone or e-mail. (See contact info below)

Q: What is the process for students to receive services from your office?

A: This process can vary a bit from one student to another. Regardless of a student's situation, he or she must first register on our website by creating a profile on the AIM portal. The student can then submit proper documentation through this site. This could range from a recent evaluation conducted by a student's high school to medical documents that provide us with information about that individual's situation.

After this, we do an intake with the student to determine his or her challenges and needs from an accommodations standpoint. Each student's professors then receive an e-mail outlining the student's reasonable accommodations, which could vary from one class to another. The nice thing is that students can select specific accommodations for each class, each term. If students need to change their accommodations as time goes on, it's very easy to do that as well.

Of course, we can handle this intake process based on how students want to go about it – a face-to-face meeting, by phone, by videoconferencing, via text relay, or any other method that best suits that student.

Q: What types of students does your office typically serve?

A: We can serve those with a visual or hearing impairment, learning or communication disability, psychological disorder, medical need, or other conditions recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Some students have had these challenges since birth while others have acquired them through military service or in other ways. Because of this, some students received accommodations in grade school, but others may have never had accommodations in school or it may have been 20 years since they last received accommodations. We have to adapt to meet each student's needs.

I should add that we occasionally serve students with temporary disabilities as well such as student-athletes who have sustained injuries or students who may have been in an accident.

Q: How does your office serve students who are at Education Centers or in one of Saint Leo's many online degree programs?

A: In some ways, I think our office has underserved these students in the past. So, my goal is to ensure we provide the same level of services to each and every student, no matter where they are located. We do this by e-mailing accessible text files of textbooks to them, mailing Braille or large-print versions of materials, or problem-solving reasonable accommodations that their instructors can provide, no matter where the students are located. If there's a way, we will find it.

Q: What specific types of accommodations does your office provide?

A: We recently developed an accommodations manual for both faculty and students that outlines all of the specific accommodations we can provide.

As for examples, JAWS is a type of screen reader that allows users to interact with a computer by having information on the screen verbally read aloud. Sonocent is a note-taking software that records audio and then allows users to annotate and interact with this content in various ways. Livescribe is a smart pen device that can assist with note taking. If students need Braille or enlarged print materials, we can have those produced as well.

I should also mention that students can receive extra time on certain exams and assignments. We can provide seating up front in classrooms or seating away from a window or air conditioning vent in certain cases.

Plus, we have a testing center that students can come to where they may feel more comfortable taking tests or exams. This space seats up to 21 students and is equipped with cameras since some students are more comfortable without an actual proctor in the room.

Q: Does your office partner with other outside agencies?

A: Yes, we will do this at times. If another agency can provide supports that extend beyond our campuses or if we can work together to coordinate services, we will do this.

We occasionally work with the Veterans' Administration, the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at USF, and other similar organizations. Of course, if students reside in other locations outside of Pasco County, we're willing to work with agencies in their areas.

Personally, I would like to see more agencies for individuals with invisible disabilities like mental health conditions or ADHD.

Q: What makes Saint Leo University an inclusive place for all learners?

A: When you look at our core values, you can see that we value what everyone brings to the table. We're also proud to have such a diverse student population. With that said, providing access to all students is just part of being a responsible steward in the community. Not only do we provide this access to current students, but we also want to be sure that graduates are prepared to advocate for themselves in the future so they can receive appropriate access in their careers and even in their personal lives and activities.

Q: What are Saint Leo's rules on service animals and emotional support animals?

A: Service animals fall under the ADA, so they are allowed wherever students go at our University Campus or at one of our Education Centers. These animals are trained to perform certain tasks for their handlers.

Emotional support animals provide a source of comfort. They are governed under the Fair Housing Act as opposed to the ADA, and that's why there are some limitations on where they can accompany the individuals they are supporting. In general, we allow emotional support animals to live with their owners in our residence halls, but they are not typically permitted to accompany students to other areas around campus.

I will say that it's amazing what animals can do to change a student's educational trajectory. We absolutely encourage students to talk with our office before bringing a service or emotional support animal to any of our locations. This will prevent any potential stress or concern about the animal accompanying the student.

Q: How can students learn more about Saint Leo University's Office of Accessibility Services?

A: If you're on campus, you can visit us in Kirk Hall 113. You can also call us at 352-588-8464 or e-mail us at adaoffice@saintleo.edu. Also, check out the Accessibility Services website.