Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Post: Accessibility at College

 The below guest post is from Anthony Garcia. For more information about guest posts on Hearing Sparks (I love them!), see here.

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Anthony recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature, and American culture.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have to consider many things when choosing a college. The most important aspect, whether you are looking for graduate programs online or at traditional campuses, is accessibility. For a student who is deaf or who has a hearing impairment, access to equal communication is key. Cultural and academic barriers can make the transition to higher education difficult even without hearing loss, so finding one that offers strong accessibility and support for you is vital.

One of the greatest obstacles for students who are deaf or hard of hearing is communication in the classroom. Even though some students may know how to lip read, some instructors can be difficult to follow during lecture in a large classroom. Look for a well-staffed and knowledgeable special services department that can help to provide an interpreter for you once you get in the classroom.

Many campuses also hire note takers through accessibility services offices. A note taker is usually another student in the room who writes the notes on a special type of paper. The paper makes a second copy that can be given to the student who is deaf at the end of the class, or the notes are photocopied and sent to the student who needs them through the accessibility office. This process can also be anonymous if desired by the student.

The school might be able to hire an interpreter to meet students’ language needs, whether the individual uses American Sign Language, requires translation or uses another form of communication, which is something to ask about in the student services or accessibility services office.

Another support tool to consider when you are searching for colleges is a support system for captions in the classroom, although once you arrive on campus, you should also discuss this need with each professor individually. When films are shown in class, they should have closed captioning, with a running script of the dialogue. This makes it easier for the student to get the right information and clearly understand the video’s content. Classes can also be open-captioned, which involves having someone type onto a screen what the presenter is saying. There are numerous services that can offer the school captioned videos for free. This reduces the cost the school may incur for using captioning.

Classrooms at the school should have the technology available that make use of visual aids and multi-media that are well-suited to the visual learning style of students with hearing loss. This includes videos, power point presentations, and interactive tasks.

Some colleges and universities put accessibility at the forefront of their priority list. Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. is an excellent example of a school mindful of students who are hard of hearing. This school has instructors who use sign, full captioning services, and support services for students. Activities and staff are set up for those who sign, use speech or other forms of communication.

The Rochester Institute of Technology, which features the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is another example of wonderful accessibility. The school and its website incorporate universal design, which strives to make campuses and other user interfaces accessible to the broadest audience possible. The school has captioning services, interpretation and related support services.

The University of Vermont gives students who are deaf numerous support options, including note takers, interpreters and captioning. They also encourage instructors to utilize deaf-friendly teaching methods, such as a greater use of visual aids while teaching and repeating student questions and comments.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing should make the first stop on their campus visit the special services office. This department can help them to communicate with instructors about accommodations, get resources and meet other challenges that may come up. If the school is serious about accessibility, they will offer a wide variety of options for the student to choose from.

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