Aurora University’s Path Toward Enhancing Equity and Access for Deaf Students

Published on February 28, 2024

Are you single-handedly managing service provision for students with disabilities on your campus? Whether your student population is big or small, ensuring that all students get access to the high-quality services they need to thrive on campus is no easy feat. When people say, “it takes a village,” it really does! That’s why we’re excited to feature one of our campus partners at Aurora University that is leveraging the power of partnerships and relationships for capacity-building. 

Aurora University's Path to Change

Elizabeth Okrzesik works at Aurora University as the Disability Accommodations Director in the Disability Resource Office (DRO), and as a one-person office she decided to seek resources to better serve the students at her institution. She found support through NDC’s Improving Campus Access facilitated course, a free three-week interactive online learning program. From advanced planning and developing action plans to discussing solutions with colleagues, Aurora University is being proactive—seeking resources to make big changes on their campus. One such resource has been NDC’s Community Forum, where disability services professionals like Elizabeth can share their thoughts, ask questions, and gather answers from others.

Additionally, Elizabeth reached out to the NDC Help Team for one-on-one consultations that have helped to promote brainstorming, new ideas, and creative problem-solving. Whether stuck on challenges like finances or finding supportive resources, the Help Team is ready to share their knowledge and provide guidance. These talks aren’t just about getting help, though; they’re a reminder that no one has to face these things alone.

As a result, Aurora University is in the process of implementing positive changes by proposing new positions and initiatives aimed at enhancing support for deaf students, including proposing an additional coordinator role. Much of the work currently being done by the DRO, such as learning to navigate accommodation discussions across departments, is laying the groundwork for stronger relationships across campus and future transformation toward a fully accessible environment for all students.

“It resulted in us actually proposing an interpreter staff coordinator position on our campus… It’s really been a lot of understanding what language is most helpful that we can associate with our mission and our values to help (administrators) understand why these extra supports are necessary.”

— Elizabeth Okrzesik, Aurora University

Additionally, there has been an influx of deaf students on their campus recently. Staff and faculty are also working toward a better understanding of what deaf students need, to make their campus more accessible. Elizabeth is also striving to ensure that accommodations extend beyond the classroom, and she is doing that by coordinating access for athletics, campus events, student organizations, and all areas of campus life. While relatively new to coordinating services for deaf students, she is not only coordinating services across her campus but also across state lines for athletic competitions!

Aurora University isn’t just reacting to problems, either. Rather, they’re working hard to make sure everyone, including student athletes, can ask for help when they need it. By thinking ahead and taking care of everyone’s needs, Aurora University is building a campus where every student can do their best and work toward their own path to success. This proactive approach emphasizes the importance of addressing students’ needs systematically rather than merely reacting to individual requests. By taking a holistic view of student support, Aurora University is working towards fostering a campus community where all students can thrive.

“It’s helped me understand that we’re not just providing an interpreter for our students, but actually we’re providing services to help them assess a whole experience here, which goes well beyond just the class meetings.”

— Elizabeth Okrzesik, Aurora University

Looking Ahead: Strengthening Connections and Resources

If you are in a similar situation, there are several things you can do to get started. Whether you are looking for ideas and strategies for coordinating interpreting services, ideas for improving overall campus access for deaf students, or implementing an accommodation request form or database for deaf student requests, you can get in touch with our Help team to get expert support today by emailing us at [email protected]!

You can also connect with colleagues and brainstorm solutions in our online Community Forum, and become an expert in accessibility practices for disability services professionals by joining our free online certificate program. For resources, tips, and more visit our Disability Services resource portal. Remember, NDC is here to help!

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Useful For: Administrators, Disability Services Professionals

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