New Resource for Disability Support Professionals: Making Online Learning Accessible for Deaf Students

Published on July 21, 2020

This image shows a group of people looking at a laptop screen. There are a total of five women and two men. Four women are sitting around a table looking at the laptop screen, while the other three are standing and looking at the laptop screen. There is a cup and a laptop mouse on the table. On the background wall, there is a painting hanging.

The hectic, uncertain spring 2020 semester is now over, and schools across the country are adapting to a new normal – one in which online education is increasingly a part of many programs. Disability support offices strive to support faculty and staff while ensuring that education remains equitable and accessible for all students.

That task will now be easier thanks to a new resource from the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC). Making Online Learning Accessible for Deaf Students: Tips for Disability Student Services provides a clear, easy-to-understand guide to the legal obligations, best practices, and resources available to ensure deaf students get the same education as their peers when classes are online.

“Online classes were becoming more common even before COVID-19, but the pandemic accelerated that trend,” said Stephanie W. Cawthon, PhD, NDC director, professor at The University of Texas at Austin College of Education, and an international expert on accessibility in education. “Deaf students need to be included in all aspects of online education. This resource helps colleges and universities make thoughtful, intentional plans to ensure access and academic success.”

Plan Ahead and Be Responsive

The guide explains the two keys to creating an equitable online class: plan ahead and be responsive.

Access is not automatically embedded into online courses, nor can it be fully achieved with accommodations instituted after-the-fact. Access must be included as part of the planning process for any course, and this resource lays out the most important considerations, including how to identify, develop, and share resources.

However, not all accommodations can be planned out and integrated into a course ahead of time, so this guide includes advice for how to respond to new issues as they arise. Deaf students are not all the same; the accommodations that work for one student or even for one course will not necessarily work for another. Ongoing communication with the student is vital to success.

This resource helps disability support staff and instructors work together with students to ensure their needs are kept at the forefront and that every student is able to get the most out of their online classes.

Resources at Your Fingertips

Access and accommodations can be murky and difficult to navigate. NDC has a wealth of resources to help both beginners and seasoned professionals ensure that deaf students transition from high school to training, college, university, or career successfully.

NDC’s COVID-19 Information Page contains valuable information for institutions, faculty, staff, students, and families who need help maintaining access through the pandemic –– whether they are returning to campus or staying online. Read the FAQs, or contact the NDC | help team for answers to specific questions or concerns.

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Tags: disability services, online learning

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