California State University, Long Beach
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Disabled Student Services Set to Celebrate 35th Anniversary

CSULB’s Disabled Student Services (DSS) will celebrate its 35th anniversary on Friday, March 14, at The Pointe with a dinner and awards ceremony, followed by a casino night.

Also included at the event will be live and silent auctions, as well as music provided by award-winning jazz artist Isaac Agyeman, who is in the jazz studies master’s program at CSULB.

One of the more unique auction items comes from renowned chef Paula Deen, who donated a set of all of her cookware, spices and autographed cookbooks to go along with a trip to Savannah, Ga., to meet her and visit her restaurant.

“For us, this serves as a friend-raiser and a fundraiser,” said Dave Sanfilippo, who is marking his 30th year as the university’s DSS director. “If someone from campus is interested in coming, they are certainly welcome.”

The event also will honor two of the program's outstanding alumni – Trisonya Thompson and Michelle Higley, M.D. Thompson, a member of CSULB's 1989 women’s volleyball NCAA title team, is considered one of the top agents for female athletes around the world. Higley is the first learning disabilities student from the DSS program to become a doctor. Also scheduled to be recognized at the event are George and Gloria Deukmejian, long-time supporters of the program.

Sanfilippo also will announce the lead gifts to the DSS fundraising campaign, one each from Rob Schlesinger and the Nishikawa family in honor of their late mother, Jeanette.

CSULB’s DSS program is the largest in the CSU system, serving more than 1,200 students a year with disabilities ranging from severe quadriplegia, mental health issues, autism and learning disabilities, according to Sanfilippo. In addition, some students need just temporary assistance, because, as Sanfilippo noted, “If someone breaks their leg snowboarding, it can affect them just as much, but for a shorter period of time.”

In 35 years of the program’s existence, more than 15,000 students have used DSS services, with approximately 7,000 of them graduating.

The biggest change Sanfilippo has seen in his 30 years as director? “The campus has been more accessible, both physically and attitude-wise,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process and you are always educating and broadening people’s awareness on the issues, but I think the campus has grown to become more accessible and make disability issues a forethought, not an afterthought. That is really the key for us.”

CSULB was the pilot program for serving disabled students in the CSU, the first campus to provide assistance for learning disabled students, and the first campus to set up a high-tech center.

“We’ve done a lot of good things, but that’s not to say that we don’t have strides to make, because we do,” said Sanfillipo. “The new area now is accessible technology ─ how do we make the Web an accessible format? When we have conferences, how do we make sure we have an accessible format so everyone can attend? Those are things we are working on.”