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Disability services director: Disabilities affect more people than society acknowledges

Physical and mental disabilities affect more people than society acknowledges, according to Jody Katz, director of Disability Services at Westminster College. Katz said she has centered her career around uplifting those whose life experiences are affected by disabilities. (Lauren Soughro)

“First and foremost I want to welcome every student to Disability Services and the Testing Center,” said Jody Katz. “But speaking especially to students with disabilities on campus, I want them to know that my passion and goal here at Westminster is to be an advocate.” 

Katz joined Westminster College as the director of Disability Services in November 2019. Before that, she worked as a disability counselor at Salt Lake Community College.

Physical and mental disabilities affect more people than society acknowledges, according to Katz. Katz said she has centered her career around advocating for those whose life experiences are affected by disabilities.

“A disability is something that impacts one or more of a student’s major life activities,” Katz said. 

These disabilities are more than just physical — they can be invisible as well, she said.

“Some disabilities can be visible such as being deaf or blind or they use a wheelchair,” Katz said. “But we serve a lot of students that have hidden disabilities [such as] mental health disabilities, depression, anxiety or attention deficit disorder.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 25.6% of adults in the United States have some type of disability. In Utah, this number is around 23% of adults.

At Westminster, 12-15% of students are affected to the extent that they work with Katz and other faculty to create personal accommodations, Katz said.

Students’ accommodations vary by need but commonly mean extra time for a test, a quiet place to test, transcribed notes, classroom changes or modified assignment schedules.

Katz also runs the Testing Center which provides a space for students without accommodations to make up their missed tests as well as a space for testers with accommodations. Both of these offices are located in the basement of Giovale Library. 

“Jody has been very understanding as a boss and head of the department,” said Emma Ahlstrom, a junior arts administration major who works in the Disability Center. “I have seen how accessibility issues have affected her life and created a passion that she brings to Westminster.” 

Katz said she is passionate about her work in Disability Services because she is both the daughter of someone with a disability and mother of someone with a disability. 

Katz brings 20 years of experience to Westminster, working as a counselor throughout her career. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Alaska before earning a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Arizona. 

Katz said she’s excited to have the opportunity to work at such a wonderful campus like Westminster. She was most attracted to the intimate environment of the private college. 

During her time on campus, Katz implemented walk-in hours instead of operating through appointments. However, that changed after the COVID-19 outbreak — forcing the office to revert back to in-person by appointment only.

Despite the changes she’s already enacted, Katz said she still has many goals and aspirations for the Student Disability Services Office and the Testing Center. 

“I have made a lot of changes already,” Katz said. “We used to have a lot of paper and pencil piles, and students would have to come in and fill out things. I got rid of all of that and everything has been made digital and accessible [for all students].”

She also wants students to feel comfortable and proud of having a disability rather than being ashamed of it. Instead, she urges them to develop it as a distinct cultural identity. 

“I love to develop leaders,” Katz said. “So, I love to put students in positions where they can get connections in the community, develop their skills and be able to advance and really see their disability as a point of who they are and develop it as a pride.”

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Lauren Shoughro is a junior communication major at Westminster College. She specializes in visual communication in media with a focus on graphic design, video production and public speaking. When she isn’t editing, you can find her on Dumke Field playing for Westminster’s Women’s lacrosse team. She is excited to bring her own flare to The Forum’s newspaper and website.

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