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While more than 200,000 deaf students attend colleges nationwide, many colleges and universities are often not prepared to support deaf students in all parts of their college experience. The access needed should not be dependent on each department or club budget to cover the costs for services — whether that be captioned media, speech-to-text services, or interpreters. It is the institution who is responsible for accessibility.
The National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC) partnered with the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) to explain how best to provide accessibility for deaf students and how to make the most of your budget through a centralized system.
Centralized systems, policies, and procedures can benefit schools by creating practical approaches that reduce potential gaps in a student’s education, avoid legal ramifications, and support inclusion of diverse student populations.
How is a Centralized System Different?
You might be curious as to the differences between a decentralized versus a centralized system. In a decentralized system, every office or part of the organization is responsible for providing their own accessibility options. In a centralized system, access services are coordinated through one office and use a campus-wide budget for covering accommodation costs. Some places do have a hybrid approach. They may have a center for coordination of services, but the budget is handled by individual departments.
Within a decentralized system, there are often gaps in oversight. Departments typically have angst about providing accommodations because they did not yet anticipate access costs within their own departmental budgets. Or if the staff are not familiar with the ADA or Section 504 requirements, they may not realize their responsibility to provide these accommodations.
As a reminder, when a system fails to provide equal opportunity, lawsuits and Office of Civil Rights investigations can happen. Previous case law and legal requirements make it clear that regardless of whether an organization is public or private, their programs and services must be accessible to deaf people.
Looking at recent cases, such as the NAD v. Harvard and NAD v. MIT, we can see a shift toward a more proactive and centralized process to address the gaps in current accessibility.
In a centralized system, access is prioritized for the whole institution. You will have a one-stop shop on campus that is designed to manage and facilitate requests via staff who have the correct knowledge and skills to coordinate services effectively. These processes put access first and do not put the burden on the student.
Why is a Centralized System Better?
NDC did a survey of deaf students from colleges across the country. It focused on the accessibility of their campuses, as well as common barriers and challenges. The students rated access on these six different levels:
- Campus Technology
- Social Engagement
On average, the students gave their institution a D. This means there were many gaps in accessibility spread across campus. Access goes beyond a classroom; it includes campus events and activities, programs and services, and physical spaces. In order to increase campus accessibility, everyone must make a commitment and focused effort to improve the campus as a whole.
On campuses with decentralized systems, individual departments typically don’t have staff with working knowledge on how to appropriately coordinate access services. Additionally, it is more challenging to streamline procedures, policies, and practices, which often leads to misunderstandings around issues like who is responsible to provide what.
Consider the ongoing investment needed in that decentralized system; having to retrain staff members after turnover or frequently updating your existing policies and procedures. Compare that to having a campus-wide centralized system. It highlights the importance of a one-stop proactive center focused on access needs.
Centralized systems allow students to thrive without concerns of access barriers. It can make staff more knowledgeable and provide quality control when arranging accommodations. These streamlined procedures, policies, and practices show a top-level commitment to access and inclusion for the entire campus.
It also allows for cost saving strategies and use of limited resources. Think about the time, expense, and effort that goes into a decentralized system — not just monetary costs, but human resources as well. That investment is high and could be greatly reduced if you centralize and make it a coordinated effort.
Want to learn more? Watch the full presentation on centralized systems that promote #DeafSuccess at colleges and universities here. If you’re looking for additional resources…
NDC is Here to Help
NDC is here to support you as you seek to expand access and opportunity for deaf students on your campus. For more strategies to create #DeafSuccess in all areas of your college, be sure to read the ACCESS Is More Than Accommodations report.
You can also learn more with these valuable resources:
- Campus Accessibility Guide
- Evaluation Tool for Serving Deaf Students
- Improving Campus Access (Professional Development Course)
- Disability Services Professionals Toolkit
- Research Summarized! Designing Accessible Environments
You can also reach out to NDC for help from our expert help team.
Zainab Alkebsi: As Policy Counsel at the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), Zainab is responsible for providing analysis, recommendations, and counsel on policy issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing people. She is President of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association and currently serves on various federal advisory committees.
Stephanie Zito: A Technical Assistance Coordinator on the NDC | Help team, Stephanie is a certified sign language interpreter and trained C-Print captionist, with interpreting and captioning services experience in postsecondary settings. She is currently President of the National Association of Interpreters in Education (NAIE).
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