ChattState Students Successfully Meet Disabilities Head-on

July 21, 2020 | Betty A. Proctor | Internal Press Release


Getting ready to enter her senior year as a Hamilton County Collegiate High student at Chattanooga State Community College, Madison Cothern has made overcoming obstacles her life’s goal. Madison developed hearing loss as a toddler, which progressed to deafness in her left ear. She was fitted with a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid, or BAHA, which is a surgically implanted device that allows sound waves to vibrate into her inner ear enabling her to hear.

Although the BAHA has made a huge difference for Madison, hearing loss still impacts her daily life. “Hearing loss can make school and social activities very difficult, and sometimes impossible!” shares Madison. “Also, not everyone is understanding of, or educated about hearing loss (or knows American Sign Language) so I encounter many obstacles.”

Despite hearing loss and illnesses, Madison excels. Following graduation in 2021, she plans to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga while majoring in secondary education and history. Performing ballet both locally and nationally for six years, she shares her love of ballet and sign language with elementary students at Barger Elementary and other recreational centers around Chattanooga. Recently named to the Spring 2020 Dean’s List, she holds membership in Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Global Scholars Honors Program.

Madison embraces volunteerism by taking on roles as a peer mentor, English tutor, dance instructor, and as an anti-bullying advocate in BeStrong Global. National recognition for volunteering has come in the form of grants from Youth Service America’s Start a Snowball and Disney’s Friends for Change programs. Within the community, she received the Kids Who Show Courage award and was one of four recipients of the 2020 Black Girls Roar award. Madison also became a recently published author. “As a teen author, I am super excited about my newly released book Beautiful, Brown, and Bionic,” notes Madison.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, the anti-discrimination law for people with disabilities enacted in 1990, will celebrate its 30th anniversary on July 26, 2020. At Chattanooga State, the Disabilities Support Services (DSS) office serves upward of 400 eligible students who may require accommodations for such disabilities including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Deaf or hard of hearing, learning and cognitive disabilities, mobility and chronic health conditions, psychological or psychiatric disabilities, traumatic or acquired brain injuries, visual impairment or blindness, as well as other types of disabilities.

Chattanooga State students requesting accommodations must self-disclose, provide appropriate documentation, and meet with DSS staff to devise an accommodation plan. Madison receives CART services (Communication Access Realtime Translation) and note-taking assistance, while fellow DSS student Danielle Freeman, who has a vision and learning disability, is allowed extra time to take tests and receives large print handouts to see fonts more legibly.

Due to her initial undiagnosed struggles, Danielle had trouble completing the simplest tasks and understanding math, dropping out of high school in ninth grade. After attaining her GED, she enrolled at ChattState Dayton, and was fortunate to meet Jerry Hendrix, Dayton Site director, who recognized a possible disability and referred her to DSS.

Like her counterpart, Danielle also was named to the Spring 2020 Dean’s List. She has learned to advocate for herself, but knows that the DSS staff “has her back” if needed. “They call and check on me regularly, are always ready to help in any situation, and have given me the confidence to continue my education,” shares Danielle, who will graduate in 2021 with a University Parallel in Science and transfer to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to become a speech therapist. “The degree for speech therapy requires a master’s degree, but with the skills I’ve learned at Chattanooga State, I feel like I can advocate for myself and achieve lasting success,” states Freeman.

“I always tell students that accommodations are not special treatment; it’s their right under the law,” states Kristi Strode, DSS counselor. To learn more about how Disabilities Support Services can help to fulfill your educational dreams, call (423) 697-4452 or visit