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Two Inspiring Stories in Honor of ADA Day

By: Danielle Chazen
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the benchmark that most professionals at educational institutions, businesses and non-profits use or reference when making decisions around inclusion. It’s rare to have conversations surrounding providing more equitable experiences to individuals with disabilities without the term “ADA” being mentioned.

Today marks ADA Day, also known as National Disability Independence Day. To honor this moment, here are two inspiring stories from AST customers who have emerged as champions for access over the past year.

The work they’re doing at both St. Paul College in Minnesota and the University of North Florida stands out from the pack. Yes, they’re making strides to support students with disabilities from within their respective roles, but it goes far beyond that. They’re now involving more staff and faculty in the process of making courses equitable, educating their communities in creative ways and finding opportunities to go beyond just meeting basic ADA guidelines alone.

Mindful Accessibility Training in Minnesota

Amelia Carlson, Accessibility Specialist, Access & Disability Resources, St. Paul College, and her colleagues are encouraging staff and faculty to be mindful of ways to even the playing field for individuals with disabilities. They’re also calling attention to the fact that often there will be students who are enrolled in classes, but aren’t necessarily disclosing their needs or challenges to their professors or accessibility services departments.

Carlson and leaders at St. Paul are therefore enlisting an interactive approach to training and supporting staff and faculty for this reality. How? They’re putting more stakeholders “in the driver’s seat” to provide access. They’re offering them knowledge to provide a deeper understanding that accessibility is a cornerstone of inclusion.

At St. Paul, it’s all about collaboration, and more importantly, consistent collaboration. In doing so, they’re ensuring student-facing content and materials meet the necessary measures to be accessible to everyone.

In fact, Carlson is working with faculty members with “no-textbook courses,” classes which can contain up to 80-100 videos per semester, for example. With course content that’s heavy in video, remote learners, students who are Deaf or have hearing loss, those navigating ADHD and others may face additional challenges in their learning. To provide them with equity, St. Paul leaders are working to fully caption their course content. As a result, even individuals sitting in these classes who do not have disabilities are benefiting too with additional ways to consume their course videos and study.

“I work with a lot of deaf or hard of hearing students. I work with a lot of students who just learn better when captions are available to them,” Carlson said. “In doing so, I work with a lot of faculty and staff to help make sure that their captions not only exist, but that they’re ADA compliant.”

For captions to meet ADA benchmarks, they must reach 99% accuracy levels, which can be nearly impossible to achieve with automatic speech-to-text tools alone unless they are edited by professionals or staff. AST, a Verbit company, is helping St. Paul to provide captions that meet the ADA benchmark so that access can be delivered more quickly to students without the constant need for editing by St. Paul’s team.

Carlson has also been training the St. Paul community on the fact that many individuals within their classes, or who are attending campus events, may have disabilities that they aren’t aware of because they’re not always disclosing them. Plus, in today’s environment, no student should feel compelled to disclose.

“You don’t know who’s in your audience,” Carlson said. “Students have a right not to disclose. In order to keep students in their seats in your class, we want to make sure that everything is accessible to them and that we think about that proactively and not reactively. We want to make materials that a low vision student can be able to access versus a deaf or hard-of-hearing student can be able to access or a student with a learning disability like ADHD or dyslexia. We want to make sure that we can manipulate these materials for them and how captioning plays into that is, if I were to create a video and have it be captioned, I can have a deaf or hard-of-hearing student watch that video and come out with that same knowledge, that same objective as if a student who didn’t have a hearing impairment.”

Additionally, Carlson takes the time to educate her community when items can’t be remediated for access.

“If a video can’t be captioned, [AST] will send me an email back with an explanation as to why, and then I can then let that faculty member know why, which is awesome. I’m able to give an explanation that helps faculty members understand why videos, some can be captioned and some can’t be captioned, and then that furthers their knowledge and accessibility.”

How Delayed Access is Not an Option at UNF

While accessibility support often stems from OCR complaints, which many universities were hit with recently, University of North Florida leaders are proactively building a community to deliver access quickly. They’ve launched ongoing training sessions and are quickly offering access to students with captioning that supports their need to meet ADA guidelines.

Even as most classes have returned to campus, the University of North Florida has been “captioning like crazy,” said Wendy Poag, the institution’s Accessibility Coordinator, Center for Instruction and Research Technology.

The value of delivering courses with captions has become well recognized, and AST, a Verbit company, is serving UNF’s student population at large by captioning courses in its learning management system, Canvas. Students who are Deaf and hard of hearing are being immediately served accommodations, while thousands of others are engaging in courses where captions and transcripts are being offered to them.

Poag is a not only a champion for accessibility, but in providing access in a timely manner than leaves no student left behind.

“Let’s just say for example, a student is in a six-week summer course. If I had to wait a week on those captions to come back, that student is a week behind in a six-week course because they are waiting on an accommodation,” she said. “Having the ability to get your captions sent back sometimes the same day since [AST] is so good, or at least within 24 hours, it’s invaluable. It’s something we weren’t getting with our other provider.”

“Students have the right to have equal access, and when they have a week delay in a six-week course, that’s not equal access. Verbit helps us provide that… The last thing we want for a student with a disability is yet another barrier of not having their accommodations met because a vendor is too slow,” Poag said.

Poag is also teaching this principles to her community in a variety of ways all universities and community colleges alike can benefit from.

Poag and UNF are: 

    • Holding faculty training development on accessibility
    • Hosting three different workshops each month
    • Brainstorming with deans & departments for specialized training
    • Launching series of microlearning videos on how faculty can remediate content
    • Posting in weekly campus newsletters & faculty updates
    • Proactively reaching out to faculty to send helpful materials
    • Working with instructional designers who are improving and designing courses through QM reviews

How to Honor ADA Day

Start to think about how you’re approaching the upcoming fall semester and beginning to remediate your content proactively now in the summer months. You have time now to caption videos or request audio description of them to help students with disabilities access your content at the same time as their peers. You can submit recordings now to get them transcribed or start researching transcription services to help students study more effectively.

Reach out to us to learn more about how we can partner and work together to help your institution take care of its access and inclusion needs now. We can help you take a more proactive role in crafting inclusive experiences from the get-go and remove the hastiness that comes with last minute requests.

While the ADA is the ‘holy grail’ of access, it shouldn’t be about checking off a compliance box and meeting basic requirements to avoid lawsuits anymore. That just won’t cut it. Honor ADA Day by taking one video or one course into consideration so you can remediate it and improve it now. Let’s set up as many students as we can up for success next semester. It just takes a little more mindfulness, plus some quick actions that won’t break your bank either.