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NMSU mostly lives up to core values of diversity and inclusion

NMSU LEADS 2025 is a nine-page strategic vision for New Mexico State University that encapsulates the foundational values on which the university’s future is set to be built. Diversity and inclusion appear fourth on the document’s list of five core values, and students with disabilities are part of what makes the campus community diverse.

NMSU is required under federal law to accommodate students with disabilities and to provide disability services. Formerly known as Student Accessibility Services, the Disability Access Services office receives all accommodation requests regarding housing and classroom settings for students with disabilities. 

A sign on the door of the NMSU Disability Access Services office welcomes students in need of accommodations, education, consultation and advocacy. (Photo by Cailin Marquez/Kokopelli)

The director of DAS, Aaron Salas, said the name was changed in August 2021 to clearly identify what the office’s responsibilities are and to provide proper transparency. Along with the new name, the office was moved to a different location. 

Because of how the office is growing in staff and space, DAS has been able to push forward and serve as a bridge for students to participate in other programs on campus. Salas said DAS was never created with the intention of developing or hosting student activities, such as the LGBT+, Chicano and Black programs offices have done; however, the department is evaluating the intersectionality students have with campus organizations. 

“One of the cool things is that we’re hoping to partner with all of our diversity programs because our students are in all of them,” Salas said.

Junior computer science major Edy Swedberg said he was not aware of any other resources on campus besides DAS and Best Buddies. The Best Buddies chapter at NMSU was started in 2020 and is part of an international nonprofit organization dedicated to providing students with disabilities the opportunity to create friendships with other individuals with disabilities, learn leadership skills and more.  

Senior Carina Nuñez, a student aide for DAS who is blind, said she is satisfied with the accommodations and services NMSU is providing. “NMSU is already providing a great source to have the necessary accessible accommodations via Disability Access Services, so nothing else is needed,” Nuñez said. 

“The push just to be kind and respectful to anybody is really what’s gonna matter because you never know when you’re talking to somebody that has a disability.”

Swedberg said he is also satisfied with how well the university follows the law and enforces policies that validate his accommodations. Swedberg has a hearing disability and one of his accommodations requires professors to wear a clip on their clothing that can transcribe the lecture onto his computer. He said he feels listened to and respected because DAS will enforce its policies for him.

NMSU Disability Access Services director Aaron Salas (Photo courtesy of DAS)

Salas outlined the ways DAS is performing quality assurance to identify what is and is not working for students. He said the department can work on improving faculty training with regard to accommodations through the incorporation of student feedback. “We’ve definitely been doing a lot more outreach, tabling events, going out there. We’ve gone on social media and we’ve started conducting surveys for our students to hear from them as to what they would like to see more of,” Salas said.

Swedberg said one of his only concerns was being unaware of what is provided under the law. “My family mentioned that there might be some things that I don’t know about, and that might not be a good thing if I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing,” Swedberg said. “For example, like 504. I did not know about those until my father told me about what they were.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the university must provide students with disabilities with appropriate educational services designed to meet the needs of individual students to the same extent as students without disabilities.

Salas said student outreach, awareness regarding diversity in people with disabilities, and learning what is important to the community are areas in which NMSU could improve.

“I think some of the things that NMSU can do better is making sure that [students] are aware of what disability services are offered in the university and becoming aware of some of the issues … There’s a big push right now where people are trying to bring awareness to the non-visible disabilities,” Salas said. “The push just to be kind and respectful to anybody is really what’s gonna matter, because you never know when you’re talking to somebody that has a disability.”

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