The disability education field continues to evolve as faculty and staff help students with disabilities. For ASU’s downtown Disability Resource Director Deborah Taska, helping these students is her passion.
Deborah Taska is celebrating her five-year tenure as director of ASU’s Disability Resource Center in downtown Phoenix. Taska organizes events and makes sure students get the right accommodations for their classes. Accommodations include extended time on tests and assigned note takers for classes, but Taska goes further. She focuses on the future state of students with disabilities.
“It’s my job to think outside the box,” Taska said. “Students become the strongest advocates with faculty, creating a great partnership.”
When the downtown campus opened in 2006, Taska became the director of their disability center. When the center opened, 99 students registered with accommodations. Today, 467 students are currently registered with the downtown campus’s center. As excited Taska is about the development, she’s even more pleased when these students can succeed without accommodations.
“There are a number of students that don’t always need accommodations,” Taska said. “They can select faculty and classes that can appeal to their style. It comes down to each semester.”
Taska’s journey did not begin with working in disability education. She graduated from Pennsylvania’s Shippensburg University with a degree in elementary education. But her path didn’t start off quite the way she hoped.
“My first assignment was a boarding school for students with parents serving in Vietnam, and that planted the seed for me,” Taska said. “I then took a job at a high school for students with learning disabilities, and I met creative, diverse, confident kids.”
That job inspired her to go back to college. Taska got her master’s degree in higher learning and specific learning disabilities from Southern Illinois University. Her degree brought her to ASU in 1985, where she was the Program Coordinator for the Tempe Campus.
She developed and provided programs to help faculty with students. Taska’s performance led her to taking charge at the downtown Phoenix campus in 2006.
Lance Harrop, the assistant director of the DRC, mostly works with students on a day-to-day basis, but he credits Taska for making his job easier. Their partnership makes the working environment better for both co-workers and students.
Taska greets her students with a warm smile and takes the time to get to know each registered student. She asks each one how they are doing personally and academically.
Taska wants more students to take charge, create events, and to join the fledgling Ability Counts Downtown group. Their established groups in the Tempe and West campuses promote disability awareness to their campuses and communities, and the downtown branch is trying accomplish the same goal. Their president, Elizabeth Vaughn, believes the DRC has done everything it can to help. But Vaughn, a junior studying social work, knows it isn’t easy.
“Ability Counts Downtown is going slowly, not much further than last year,” Vaughn said. “They want to get it further, but students don’t seem to want to do anything with it.”
Taska understands it’s difficult to form a group when students are focused on other interests, but she continues supporting the group as is grows.
“Deb is amazing not only personally, but she exemplifies what all collegiate staff should be,” Harrop said. “She makes it easier because she’s so good at what she does, ensuring students success, access and accommodations.”
Students registered with the downtown campus agree with Harrop. Vaughn believes Taska does a great job helping her at ASU.
“Awareness is a constant thing that needs to improve,” Vaughn said. “She does it well and helps me with networking in different disability areas.”
Taska created a strong partnership between students with disabilities and their professors. Under her guidance, downtown students with disabilities have the means to succeed. Thanks to her leadership, the DRC is showing no signs of slowing down.