California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Disabled Student Services Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Published: October 15, 2013

Disabled Student Services (DSS) celebrates its 40th anniversary with a special reception on Friday, Oct. 25, to honor its outstanding alumni. The 70s-themed event, “Bring on the Funk,” will be held from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. in the Grand Event Center in Long Beach.

“Disabled Student Services has survived and prospered for 40 years because this office has received such strong support from the CSULB administration,” said Director David Sanfilippo, who first joined DSS 35 years ago. “We thank the President’s Office and Academic Affairs for the tremendous amount of support they have offered. Because of that, DSS has been lucky enough to get what it needed to be able to serve our students. And there have been generous donors over time.”

Sanfilippo talks about how much DSS has grown and the multiple resources that help them to continue to provide services for students.

“I can remember when we first started, we didn’t have much,” he said. “There were two staff members, 160 students and a $40,000 budget. But that’s changed significantly. We now have 24 full-time staff and our budget is much better.”

Sanfilippo went on to explain the importance of the program when it started, setting an example as a new program.

“We were the pilot program for the CSU system,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes early on but we learned from them. We’ve always tried to be responsive to the growing needs and demands of the students with specific disabilities.”

According to Sanfilippo, DSS has continued to be successful to this day. “We know we succeed because we listen to our students,” he said. “They are the best experts about their disabilities. They live and breathe them every day. Our students are articulate enough to verbalize their needs. We try to remember the old adage, `You can’t have an open-door policy if you can’t get through the door.’”

Planning has played a major role in the DSS success story since the 1970s when then-President Stephen Horn and Director of Physical Planning Jon Regnier rode through the campus in wheelchairs one day to set an example and bring attention to DSS. Soon after, a “Concerns for the Handicapped” committee was formed which evolved into what is the DSS Advisory Committee today.

“Not only were we the pilot DSS program in the CSU but we were the first to have a high-tech center which became the Accessible Instructional Media Center for Student Success,” Sanfilippo explained. “We were the first to have a comprehensive endowment campaign thanks to former Gov. George Deukmejian who will be present with his wife at the celebration.”

According to Sanfilippo, the best measure of success is jobs. “It’s good to get a degree but it is better to get a job,” he said. “Our Workability IV program in collaboration with the Career Development Center is meant to assist students with disabilities to develop and attain career goals. We see a growing need to deal with students with psychological disabilities and the need to case-manage some of those students.”

Sanfilippo also noted the most recent addition to DSS called Life Project. “Life Project helps students in the autism spectrum whose presence has grown 300 percent in three years. Part of the reason we are having this celebration is the success we have had, not only with the students while they are here, but afterward,” he said.

Sanfilippo encourages the campus and community to join the Oct. 25 celebration. In addition to honoring prominent alumni, this year marks the first presentation by DSS of the “Rising Star Award” in recognition of students who are at the beginning of their careers.

Sanfilippo believes DSS has gotten better at its job because it listens to three experts.

“The students are experts about their disabilities. We are experts in how to accommodate students in classes or at events. Faculty and staff are experts in terms of the programs they offer. Working with the experts is our most powerful tool. It is the key to our success,” he said.

Reflecting on the importance of the services that DSS provides, Sanfilippo also talked about what it means to him to work in this field.

“When you’ve had to work this hard, you get a heightened awareness of what life really means,” he said. “In many cases, our students seem to better appreciate what life has to offer. They understand its true value due to the experiences they have had. That’s the kind of spirit that cannot be manufactured. It is a perspective earned only by living. We want to honor the accomplishment of our students who have overcome many obstacles and were able to go forward to their degrees. Their example serves as a motivation for others.”