No matter how a new Ball State University graduate with a disability gets across the Commencement stage — by wheelchair, cane, or with a guide dog — Dr. Courtney Jarrett, ’04 MA ’07 EdD ’12, watches, proudly knowing the best chapter of their lives has started.
“It brings me great joy to watch my students graduate and go on to be great people and have fulfilling careers.”
Under her guidance, hundreds of students with a variety of physical challenges have arrived on campus looking for their place among their peers. They leave campus prepared to make a difference in their chosen fields. At the same time, their classmates benefit from seeing how much persons with disabilities can achieve and how different abilities cultivate different but powerful strengths.
“I’m passionate about equality for everyone,” said Jarrett. “Many people with disabilities are often discouraged from going to college. But, if they can negotiate four years of living and learning on a college campus, they can conquer any challenge life throws at them.”
Since she was named director of the Office of Disability Services three years ago, Jarrett has helped galvanized the University’s already nationally renowned efforts to assist students with disabilities. As a result, Ball State was recently ranked sixth among College Magazine’s “Top 10 Universities for Students with Disabilities.”
In its August 2020 issue, the magazine listed colleges and universities that go above and beyond to make the transition to college life easier for students with disabilities. For its list, the magazine measures factors such as accessible dorms, classrooms and transportation, as well as a campus environment that advocates for awareness and inclusion for those students.
Among factors singled out by College Magazine was Ball State customizing its website for “specific subsections for different disabilities, meaning a student with a learning disability won’t need to open a billion tabs to find the right one.”
A natural home
The University’s efforts to make the campus accessible to students with any type of disability is widely known throughout the Midwest. This reputation made the campus a natural home for Savannah Bassett, a senior from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who is majoring in finance, with minors in financial planning and leadership studies.
“This [College Magazine] award is fantastic but it’s not the first time I’ve seen Ball State on a list for having strong services for students with disabilities,” said the 22-year-old, who wears hearing aids as a result of significant auditory loss in both ears.
“This place has changed my life and it’s all because the University is dedicated to helping all its students — not just those with a disability. But, it’s nice to have these services here because we need them.”
Bassett is herself a strong advocate for students with disabilities through her leadership of the Alliance for Disability Awareness (ADA). A Ball State student group that promotes awareness about disability issues, ADA plans and co-sponsors various events throughout the school year.
After graduation, Bassett plans to start a career in the banking industry thanks to a Ball State connection. She enrolled in an internship with Chase Bank through the Gregory S. Fehribach Center, named after the Ball State graduate, former member of the University’s Board of Trustees, and Indianapolis attorney who works to increase employment opportunities for students with physical disabilities throughout central Indiana.
“When I was in high school, it took me filling out eight job applications just to get someone to hire me because of my disability,” Bassett said. “That all changed because people like Greg saw my potential, giving me experiences to better conquer the world as a woman with a disability.”
Collaboration throughout campus
Ball State’s efforts to support students with disabilities dates back to the late 1960s. Now, the University serves about 1,300 individuals annually with a variety of services, including a mentorship program, free confidential counseling sessions, self-help tools, online articles, and other resources.
“What makes Ball State standout is the collaboration across units through the campus,” Jarrett said. “We’re known for being a really physically accessible campus, and we work closely with Facilities Planning and Management to make sure we are doing the best we can in that area. We also work closely with Housing and Residence Life along with Dining Services for those students who live on campus and may need accommodations to live and eat here.”
Jarrett said the University is also noted for helping students transition into college. Ball State’s Faculty Mentorship Program allows faculty to work one-on-one with first-time freshmen students with disabilities, providing personalized assistance and a better understanding of academic challenges.
“We’ve done research that shows those students are retained at a higher level than students with disabilities that don’t participate. I talk with colleagues all over Indiana and the nation who have or want to copy our mentoring model,” said Jarrett.
“But, while we have done a good job, we still have a long way to go. I want to make this campus the number one college for these students. They deserve it.”