Service offers notes to students with disabilities

Thierry Djemmo, a junior business major, is an A student who always takes notes in his classes.

However, in Finance 320 this semester, he is not just taking notes for himself, but also for another student in the class — someone he doesn’t even know.

Djemmo is one of about 500 students across the university who are volunteer note-takers for students with disabilities, who qualify for the accommodation under federal law. Once class is over, Djemmo reviews his notes for clarity and then e-mails a copy to the Office of Disability Services (ODS).

“It’s good to know that someone is actually using your notes, that it’s actually helping someone else,” he said. “It gives you incentive to look over your notes since you need to proof-read them before you send them out.”

Students who receive the notes said the program is important for their success. One participant, a UM junior who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said she has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a medically recognized disability.

“It’s often hard for me to listen and take notes at the same time,” she said. “If I’m really focused on writing everything down perfectly, then I end up missing what the professor says next.”

ODS exists under the mandate of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The laws require that post-secondary institutions supply appropriate aids and services to students with disabilities in order to give them an equal opportunity in the educational process.

Note-taking is one of several services ODS offers. A note-taker is responsible for attending every class in which they have signed up to be a note-taker. They are expected to take comprehensive notes on lectures, class discussions and any other communication by instructors and students.

Note-takers do not attend additional classes beyond their regular schedules. If they have at least a 3.0 GPA, they are recruited from the classes in which they are currently enrolled.

“Everything is confidential. The note-taker does not know which student or students in the class receive their notes. This is done for the protection of the student with a disability and the note-taker,” said Mykel Jane Mangrum Billups, assistant dean at the Academic Resource Center and ODS director.

“Questions about the content of the notes should go to the professor, while questions about the note-taking style or format of the notes should go through ODS,” Billups said.

The aids and services are free to students, who must provide documentation of their disability to qualify for help.

“Students must register with ODS and be granted note-taking as an official accommodation,” Billups said. “Then students must request notes for each class every semester and abide by the policies and procedures for that accommodation. This requires students to take their own notes and attend class. Students sitting in class without taking notes or not attending class jeopardize their accommodation.”

Potential note-takers are identified through a database in the registrar’s office. ODS usually sends e-mails to top students who are in the specific courses that need a note-taker. It is up to the student to volunteer or not.

Note-takers are rewarded with 60 hours of community service, which can be used for any UM club, sorority/fraternity or even outside of UM with the certificate from the ODS office.

“It is an easy and impressive addition to any resume,” Billups said.

In addition, note-takers are given a small gift valued at $25 from the UM bookstore.