Disability assistance programs on campus

By Laura Jolly

As you walk around campus, you may notice the students with obvious disabilities – that man in a wheelchair, the young blind woman; but there are so many more individuals with “invisible disabilities” that you may not be aware of.

There are various programs on campus available for students with disabilities, to help them experience the same educational opportunities as every student. Two of the main programs are the KOKUA Program and the Center on Disability Studies.

The KOKUA Program

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.2 percent of the American population ages 16-64 have some sort of disability. The KOKUA Program functions on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus to accommodate students with disabilities.

The KOKUA Program is housed in the bottom floor of the Queen Liliuokalani Center for Student Services building.

“KOKUA supports students with a wide range of disabilities,” said Ann Ito, chairperson of the KOKUA Program. “Disabilities may be simple or multiple, mild to severe, lifelong or newly acquired, diagnosed or yet to be diagnosed, readily visible or relatively invisible.”

The KOKUA Program was started in 1966 to promote educational opportunities and development for students with disabilities. KOKUA fosters communication and flexibility between students and faculty.

“KOKUA works closely with students, their instructors and the general campus community to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the many campus offerings,” said Ito.

KOKUA aids students with wide ranges of disabilities, such as Asperger’s syndrome, blindness, deafness, health disabilities, learning disabilities, mobility impairments, psychiatric disabilities, and speech disorders.

Services are determined by KOKUA staff and may include priority registration, faculty liaison, alternate media production, notetaking, testing accommodation, laboratory assistance, library assistance, mobility assistance, campus intervention, adapted furniture, and campus transportation.

“Services are tailored to the individual’s need,” said Ito. A KOKUA counselor meets with the student to determine what services would best assist them in achieving a positive learning experience.

The Center on Disability Studies

The Center on Disability Studies (CDS) was established in 1988 and consists of a network of university centers that focus on supporting people with disabilities through their inclusion in the community. Its services include training, research and education.

“CDS has wide-ranging expertise in a broad spectrum of disability issues, which many educational institutions are beginning recognize is a component of the diversity spectrum,” said Steven Brown of the CDS.

The CDS also offers a 15-credit graduate Certificate Program in Disability and Diversity Studies and publishes a journal called the Review of Disability Studies (available online at

The CDS supports a variety of projects. “We have somewhere between 40-50 projects currently funded,” Brown said.

Among these projects is the Innovative and Sustainable Teaching Methods and Strategies to Ensure Students with Disabilities Receive a Quality Higher Education (IST). This project was formed to gather information on services available to students with disabilities, develop efficient teaching methods and accommodations for faculty and administrators, and offer professional development and training sessions.

Within the IST program are two projects: The Mentoring Partnership Project (MPP) and the “Teaching All Students, Reaching All Learners” program.

The MPP helps provide better access to knowledge for students with disabilities and increases faculty awareness of disability-related issues. The MPP provides information regarding faculty-student mentoring and connects students with faculty in both social and formal settings, both in-person and online.

The MPP also sponsors the annual Disability Mentoring day, which took place on October 15. The event addresses employment issues for those with disabilities by providing job shadowing.

“Teaching All Students, Reaching All Learners” trains faculty and staff in ways to address disability and diversity in the classroom, awarding a certificate upon completion of the training.

To see a complete listing of the CDS projects, visit


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