The ADA Core: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that universities and most educational institutions provide necessary resources and accommodations to ensure equitable access to education. 

The number of universities being sued for ADA non-compliance and regulatory neglect has exploded. Some of the oldest academic institutions in the US: Harvard, MIT, Princeton, NYU and many other reputable universities have been called out for allegedly overlooking accessibility needs and violating basic rights. 

White cover page with title text: ADA Americans with Disabilities Act

Image Source: Attorney Law Magazine

The rise in ADA lawsuits depict universities failing to accommodate students with particular needs that ensure them equal opportunity to thrive in the academic arena—whether it be remote, hybrid or in-school. 

Despite the powerful safeguard of ADA laws, it is no wonder that the percentage of students with hearing loss graduating college in the U.S. sits at less than half that of their hearing counterparts. With advancements in technology, lack of awareness among educational institutions and educators is no longer acceptable. 

Tough Accessibility Lessons

The ADA lawsuits spotlight flaws in the educational system, and the remediation necessary to meet ADA compliance and other federal requirements. Section 504 prohibits colleges, universities and postsecondary education institutions from discriminating against students who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing; and enforces Federal agencies to provide the services that people deserve. 

Many universities are learning the hard way that: (1) they are liable for non-compliance with ADA laws, and (2) oversights can be costly in time, money and reputation. 

Moving forward, universities will need to provide more than “just the essentials”, and remain diligent as to not overlook the vital components that constitute an accessible education.

“We all have responsibilities for providing access and a welcoming environment for anyone on our campus. It is not an office responsibility; it is not just the disability services office or the disability services provider, or the director, or the coordinator that is responsible to making sure that access is provided for students with disabilities, or that their needs are being met. It is a university-wide responsibility.”

- Beatrice Awoniyi, director and assistant dean for the Student Disability Resource Center at Florida State University

Three Ways to Meet ADA Compliance 

  1. Assistive Tech

Assistive tech developments continue to improve accessibility. In recent years, the spectrum of assistive tech catering to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community has flourished. 

Assistive listening devices (ALDs), like Inductive Loop systems and FM systems, work with some hearing aids, implants and headphones as well as Soundfield systems or Infrared systems to ensure equal audibility throughout a learning environment. 

Additionally, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) systems provide the capacity to translate spoken word into real time text. CART systems can be used on computers and smartphones, allowing convenient interaction with professors and classmates.

Ava Scribe combines AI with fully trained professional Scribes—giving you real-time captions with maximum accuracy exceeding 99%. The communication tool has proven useful for student-to-student and student-to-teacher discourse, online learning and academic advising.

Accessible Instructional Materials technologies provide further support by converting educational material into formats that optimally serve Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. 

Text "Assistive Technology Personalizes Learning Environment" above the following ten icon graphics: keyboard, blind person walking, headphones, audio book, glasses, text, a magnifying glass, a calculator, captions on a screen, an iphone
Image Source: Bookshare.org

  1. Mobile Apps

Apps allow access at our fingertips. A growing number of free and paid apps available for Android and iOS devices are providing greater autonomy for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students in higher education. 

Ava, a versatile state-of-the-art live captioning solution offers advanced captioning solutions for a fully accessible education. Ava makes it possible to caption the classroom experience in its entirety—online and in-person, scheduled or last minute. 

Ava features:

  • Mobile captioning for students to easily participate in classroom lectures and study groups, join clubs and take part in all campus events
  • State-of-the-art captioning that is instant and crystal clear
  • Ava Scribe assists to help meet ADA requirements 
  • Closed-captioning transcription with voice identification or speaker diarization

To schedule a demo with an Ava expert on how to make your university accessible, click here

Six people sit around a table smiling and conversing. Close-up of one hand holding an iphone with Ava text caption on the screen. Text at the top of the image reads "& Ava Communicate Beyond Barriers" and text at the bottom of the image reads, "www.ava.me" with the Apple App store and Google Play icons above the website.

Image Source: Pixabay

  1. Classroom Modifications

Universities can enhance inclusion through classroom modifications. 

What kind of practices can educators incorporate into their classroom to best accommodate the  Deaf and hard-of-hearing community? 

Strategies for leveling the playing field include:

  • assigning note-takers and interpreters
  • adjusted seating arrangements for lip readers
  • facilitating alternative testing
  • reducing visual distractions within the learning environment
  • providing visual supplements, eg. written coursework outlines and white board annotation during lectures

Hands of someone wearing a black sweater sits at a desk with one hand holding a pencil and the other hand resting on a testing pamphlet.

Increasing Awareness for Equity in Education for the Deaf Community

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students should have a firm understanding of their ADA rights, while universities guarantee these proper accommodations are met.

Growing awareness among university staff remains vital for the door to open to greater investment and effort in making higher education accessible to the Deaf community.

Encouragingly, at least 35 states have recognized American Sign Language as a modern language for public schools. Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States are offering ASL classes, making Deaf culture more integrated and visible than ever.

To align themselves with ADA compliance rules, universities are not only obligated to make their campuses accessible, but must also design their courses, activities and other services to be inclusive. 

Accessibility Checklist for Educators

  • Interpreters
  • Live caption, closed caption, lipreading and voicing aid
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Note takers
  • Custom testing accommodations

 

Four students (two women, two men) sit in a classroom learning sign language.

Image Source: Lead With Languages

The Case for ADA Compliance is Clear 

In addition to being the law, universities and schools with equity practices in place open education doors to millions more Americans. Complying with the ADA removes barriers and enables people of all abilities the same educational opportunities as their surrounding peers. 

Still, the journey to true equity is only beginning. Universities must take initiative to develop a deeper understanding of appropriate terminology, and simple ways to increase support for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. 

With a plethora of resources that are readily available to make the educational process more seamless, there is no excuse for circumventing ADA laws at the cost of compromising student education. Compliance is essential for institutions to create an environment that enables Deaf and hearing students alike to feel comfortable, confident and supported.  

When educators and academic institutions embrace the challenge of accessibility with transparency—and engage in direct collaboration with the Deaf community—the possibilities are bountiful.

Jordana Schulman
Post by Jordana Schulman
July 14, 2022

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