James McKissick, 47, of Waldorf, earned an associate degree in accounting with high honors and is shown fourth from left, waving to friends, family and tutors during the May 2014 Commencement Ceremony.
LA PLATA, Md.—Millions of Americans are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990-celebrated in the month of October-which provides protection against discrimination based on disability and requires educational institutions receiving federal funds to provide accommodations, services or assistive technology to students with disabilities.
The College of Southern Maryland's Disability Support Services (DSS) assists more than 200 students each semester by providing resources to navigate the education arena. Some of the services provided include sign language interpreters, scribes, assistive technology training and use, and qualified readers for students who are eligible.
"Sometimes, it takes the efforts of a team of volunteers and tutors to help a student achieve their goals," said CSM Academic/ADA Coordinator Glennis Daniels-Bacchus.
That was the case for James McKissick, 47, of Waldorf, who graduated with an associate degree with high honors in May 2014.
"I could not have done this without the help of CSM and my tutors," said McKissick, who suffered severe brain trauma in a 1996 automobile crash and was in a coma for more than two months.
McKissick had dropped out of school in the ninth grade and later earned his GED. He was in a good-paying job working for an insurance association in Washington, D.C., and felt he was on top of the world. In an instant, he said, his world shifted on its axis and his life changed.
After his recovery, a job placement advisor at the Maryland Department of Rehabilitative Services encouraged him to return to school and in 1998, McKissick took his first courses, Principles of Accounting and College Success Skills. "At first I didn't want to visit the college's disability office because I wanted to be perceived as normal as possible," McKissick said. "After a 12-year gap in school, I was unsure if I would be able to do this."
With support from the college's Disability Support Services, over the next 16 years, McKissick estimates that he received help from more than 10 CSM tutors and community volunteers. Two stand out because they stuck with him for years and now rejoice in his graduation accomplishment. Dan Sandsbury and Joe Bokser, both retired from the federal government, volunteered to work with McKissick for up to two times a week, semester after semester. When McKissick faced a mathematics course, required for graduation, Bokser and Sandsbury began tutoring sessions over the summer so that McKissick could hit the ground running on the first day of class in September.
CSM faculty Elizabeth Rourke, Leslie Tuttle, Kenneth Swann and Mathematics Department Chair Andrea Ronaldi were exceptionally patient and giving of their time, said McKissick.
"No matter how poor, no matter how rich-people need people," said McKissick. "I feel so blessed and I commend CSM for their efforts in helping me."
For information on CSM's Student Success Center and Disability Support Services, visit www.csmd.edu/Studentsuccess/ADA/ or contact Daniels-Bacchus at 301-934-7614 or GlennisD @ csmd.edu. For information on CSM, visit www.csmd.edu.