Making TRIO Accessible: What You Need to Know

TRIO Student Success Services (SSS) programs provide tutoring, peer coaches, academic advising, workshops, activities, and scholarships for NEIU students. TRIO SSS offers three programs that focus on assisting students in their academic journeys. For example, Access is a TRIO SSS program that aims to help support first-generation students with documented disabilities. TRIO is located in the library on the fourth floor.

I have been part of the TRIO SSS program for 5 months. According to my experience,  I find TRIO to be very accessible. I say this because I have a mental disability and most times it’s difficult for me to do my assignments. Especially as a first-generation student, I have no help or support from other sources. Therefore, TRIO has been a source that is “no cost to students and [TRIO] work within their [student’s] available time and schedule” according to their website.

With my experience in TRIO, I thought of interviewing two TRIO students and two TRIO staff members about their thoughts on how accessible TRIO is for students with disabilities. Is TRIO accessible for disabled students? Let’s find out!

“I’m going to stand on my soapbox,” said Katherine Gleiss jokingly, faculty coach and tutor for TRIO, as she gave me a short history of the TRIO program.

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Gleiss said, “TRIO started back in 1968 during the Civil Rights, and it was a part of affirmative action to try to make up for the years of discrimination in higher education. The motive was for TRIO to be accessible for first-generation students, people with low income, and people with disabilities. In the 1970s, it changed to a broader program to help everyone who might have challenges to overcome to get into a higher education and to give them the support they need.”

There are many accessible aspects of the TRIO programs. Gleiss feels that accessibility in TRIO is acceptable because there are three separate programs (Access, Achieve, and Teacher Preparation) and all three are very helpful in supporting students and their accommodation needs. 

In addition, TRIO has a very high success rate with students. Erin Long, the Assistant Director of TRIO SSS-Access program, stated, “From September 1st, 2022 to August 31st, 2023, we served 106 students in our program, and our persistent goal the U.S. Department of Education set for us was 59% at NEIU, and 91% of our students persisted.”

Students agree that TRIO is very supportive. Matthew, a senior student in TRIO SSS stated, “I have been in TRIO Support Services for over 6 years now. TRIO is accessible to students because they help everyone reach their goals effectively and smartly, too.”

David, who is also a TRIO Student Support Services student, similarly said,“I have been a TRIO student since May 2019, and I find TRIO very accessible.”

Both students find TRIO tutoring services and study groups very helpful and supportive. David said, “Erin Long, she hosts an event called Adulting with Autism and I find the event enjoyable.” Adulting with Autism is a peer support group that TRIO hosts. The support group is located on the fourth floor of the library every Thursday, creating a safe space for students to discuss many topics about college, life after college, dating, relationships, and the working world.

However, the TRIO space and resources are not fully accessible to all students. Dr. Long said, “We don’t have many supplies or resources for all students with disabilities. For example, in the past, we worked with students with visual impairments and blindness, and when students came in, we created large print documents, flyers, and more to make sure they were as accessible as they can be but I feel that more can happen and change.” TRIO is also not fully accessible to deaf students “because most of [the TRIO staff] aren’t fluent in sign language.” 

In addition to sensory disability, TRIO staff are concerned about physical accessibility. Dr. Long stated that their director’s office is not wheelchair accessible, and neither are the other programs physically accessible. Gleiss also stated that TRIO is accessible for students with disabilities, except for people who are in a wheelchair because the fourth floor library space is tight.

When asked about  the changes needed in TRIO, Gleiss answered that an important change would be “[h]aving a greater cooperative effort with Student Disabilities Services and TRIO because of the lack of Student Disability Services providing notetakers early enough in the semester for students with disabilities.”

“I want accessibility to be one of the questions that comes up first when we’re thinking of our programs for students,” Dr. Long said.

“I would like to see more awareness of the TRIO offices on campus to see how great the program really is, especially for new incoming students as well. They need to see that the support is there for them to help them achieve great things while they’re in college.” Matthew stated.

When I asked my final question of what could be done to help TRIO students’ voices be heard, Matthew said, “When I first came to NEIU in 2019, there was little awareness of the Student Disability Services office on campus, and it hasn’t changed today. When that office has more awareness, the voices of people with disabilities will be heard more often on campus for many years to come. More people will take notice as well.” 

Dr. Long responded excitedly, “I’m glad you asked, because for the first time in October for National Disability Awareness Month, we are going to be doing panels with student panelists to share their experience as disabled students on campus.” 

TRIO has been a strong program at NEIU for a long period. Since many students who attend NEIU are first-generation, low-income, and challenged by college learning, TRIO plays a vital role in students’ success. Generally, students have a favorable perception of advisement, programs, and tutoring support.

Future improvements could focus on strengthening collaborative efforts between TRIO and Student Disability Services. A program planned for this fall is Disability Awareness Month which will help to focus on the needs of students at NEIU with disabilities.

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