Breaking Barriers: Enhancing Self-Advocacy Skills & Navigating the Grievance Process for Deaf Students Webinar Recap

Published on March 15, 2024

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If you were unable to join us for our recent webinar, Breaking Barriers: Enhancing Self-Advocacy Skills & Navigating the Grievance Process for Deaf Students, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered with a recap of the essential insights on navigating college accessibility as a deaf student—especially when the process hits bumps along the way.

Advocating for accessibility in college is crucial, but it’s not always a smooth ride. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may find yourself in situations where the accommodations you need aren’t provided effectively or at all. In such cases, knowing your rights and how to navigate the grievance process becomes essential.

54% of deaf students say they don’t feel welcome participating in student activities on campus, 57% of deaf students said that faculty are not likely to provide them with notes or slides before class, and 53% of disability services do not collect formal feedback on the accommodations they’re providing.

Understanding Your Rights & Knowing When to File a Complaint

As a deaf person, your right to equal access in post-secondary education is protected by federal law. Training programs, colleges, and universities are required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to make their campuses and services accessible.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 is the first disability civil rights law in the United States, and it prohibits discrimination of qualified individuals with disabilities by entities that receive federal financial assistance. This applies to many public and private institutions.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA applies to all areas of public life, including employment, education, and transportation. ADA applies both to public and private universities, colleges, and training programs, as well, mandating that people with disabilities have effective access to programs and services at their institution. The accommodations provided may include sign language interpreters, speech to text services, captioned media, or assistive listening systems, or may be a combination of any of those services.

When to File a Formal Complaint

Filing a formal complaint, also known as a grievance, becomes necessary when:

  • You didn’t receive the accommodation needed for effective communication.
  • The provided accommodation was ineffective.
  • The accommodation wasn’t provided in a timely manner.
  • Despite addressing the issue with relevant parties, it remains unresolved.

For instance, if you requested an ASL interpreter for a technical class but received one who isn’t proficient in the subject matter, and your concerns weren’t addressed despite discussions with your institution’s disability services office, filing a complaint may be appropriate.

An important part for you to know is the interactive process, which is just a formal way to say that the Disability Services Office is obligated to go through a conversation with you when they make decisions about accommodations. That process always starts with you as the deaf student. It’s your responsibility to communicate what it is you need, and why you need it. Remember that as a student, you determine what communication is effective for you.

How to Initiate the Grievance Process

Start by familiarizing yourself with your institution’s grievance procedure, usually available on their website. Depending on the university’s structure, you may need to contact disability services, the ADA Coordinator, Dean of Students, or similar offices. Document your attempts to resolve the issue, transitioning from verbal discussions to written communication as needed. Additionally, keep records of emails, requests, and interactions with relevant personnel.

Examples of Filing Complaints

  • Late Interpreter: If your interpreter is frequently tardy, follow a structured escalation process, involving DSS, the director, and, if necessary, the ADA Coordinator.
  • Professor Refuses to Use a Microphone: Politely inform your professor of the necessity of wearing a microphone, escalating the issue to DSS and higher authorities if unaddressed.
  • Speech-to-Text Provider Doesn’t Show Up: Report the no-show to DSS, escalating through email communication and involving the Student Affairs Dean if needed.

Filing complaints happens in multiple ways, including both internally with your institution or externally with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). For more examples and guidance on when it may be appropriate to file a complaint, check out this page.

What Should You Do Next If Resolution Isn't Achieved?

If your college fails to address the issue, seek assistance from organizations like the ADA National Network or state disability rights organizations. They can provide legal information and advocacy support, potentially nudging institutions towards compliance. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Seek guidance, document meticulously, and assert your right to access.

For further resources or one-on-one support, check out our Student Resource Portal or send an email to our Help Team at [email protected].

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