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Brandman University eliminates barriers

Teaching college students with disabilities, including PTSD

Brandman University student Zane Speegle, who suffers from PTSD as a result of his combat tours as an Army medic, will graduate with his bachelor's degree in August. Courtesy photo

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Federal law mandates that all schools have programs for students with disabilities, but Brandman University - which offers it across every aspect of learning, from in the classroom to online distance learning - is leading the way and helping all students to reach their educational goals.

"Technology is making it so much easier to help our students, it's why we call it accessible education," said Dr. Loren O'Connor, Brandman's director of Americans with Disabilities Act Services. "Brandman has 80,000 audiobooks, 60,000 of which are textbooks and a variety of software programs that the Accessible Education Services Team provides tutoring on so that the students are prepared to utilize the technology."

Currently there are 400 students registered with the Disability Services office. Furthermore, of the new students who register, 70 percent are veterans who have been deployed between one to three times, according to O'Connor, who joined Brandman two years ago to expand this office. The number is not surprising considering that Brandman lists more than 20 percent of its student population as military, which comes with its own unique disabilities.  

With PTSD and TBI, for instance, symptoms may not show up immediately and students can have problems with hearing, eyesight or have trouble concentrating. Students who register their disability with Brandman can be assisted in a number of ways, including extended time on exams, assistive listening devices, course materials in an alternate format and even being provided with a qualified note taker.

Brandman student Zane Speegle served on active duty in the Army, completing two deployments to Iraq, and today he is a reservist. However, as a result of his high-stress role as a combat medic, Speegle suffers from PTSD.

"One of the first services that I took advantage of was the voice recognition software because I have carpal tunnel syndrome, so this allows me to speak to the computer and it types for me," said Speegle. "I also have software that can read the book aloud which helps me because I occasionally suffer from issues with concentration."

The downside is that Speegle, 30, was at Brandman for almost a year before he learned about the disability services that were offered at his school.

"I realized that if I didn't know, how many others are unaware that there's help available?" he asked. 

That is why he continues to spread the word about the program and want to help fellow students in need get over the stigma associated with the term disabled.

"We've sort of built a network among these students and we're all working together to improve everyone's college experience," Speegle said.

To register for the program, students must provide documentation of the disability, whether that's VA disability paperwork or other medical proof. Registration is voluntary and documentation is considered confidential. Registered students then identify what their challenges are and can look through all of the possible accommodations to see what could help them succeed.

"Brandman has so many different options that it truly sets up most students for success," Speegle stated. "I have the luxury of being a fulltime student now but I am only able to do as well as I am with the benefit of the disability services."

Speegle will receive his Bachelor's degree in Organizational Leadership this August and he plans to continue his education and get to work on his Master's degree.

"We try to eliminate the barriers, no matter how hard the challenges for each student might be," O'Connor concluded.

If students or potential students have questions about accessible education options, they can contact Dr. O'Connor at or go to Brandman University's disability services website.

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