Funding & Coordination Models

The financial responsibility for providing access for deaf students must be borne by the entire institution. For example, if the budget of a student club is limited and the club is therefore concerned that it can’t cover the cost of accommodating a deaf student who is interested in joining, it is the institution as a whole which must ensure access.

Centralized systems, policies, and procedures can benefit schools by creating practical approaches that avoid delays, reduce potential gaps in a student’s education, avoid legal ramifications, and support inclusion of diverse student populations.

Types of Funding Systems

Decentralized System

Every office or part of the organization is responsible for providing their own accessibility options.

Centralized System

Access services are coordinated through one office and use a campus-wide budget for covering accommodation costs. 

Hybrid Approach

There may be a center for coordination of services, but the budget is handled by individual departments.

What Are the Problems with Decentralized Systems?

Decentralized systems often suffer from gaps in oversight. Departments can be reluctant to pay for accommodations because they did not adequately plan for access costs in their departmental budgets.

On campuses with decentralized systems, the staff at individual departments typically don’t have adequate knowledge of how to appropriately coordinate access services. Staff may not have enough familiarity with the ADA or Section 504 requirements to provide effective accommodations, or even to realize that providing effective accommodations is their responsibility.

While institutions may try to resolve this issue by providing training, it’s a challenge to do this in such a way that all staff have the knowledge they need. Even if this sort of all-campus training is accomplished one time, turnover creates a need to retrain staff, and whenever there are updates to existing policies and procedures, these must be distributed both widely and effectively.

Additionally, a lack of streamlined procedures, policies, and practices can lead to misunderstandings around issues like who is ultimately responsible for which parts of providing access, and unnecessary delays. A scattershot approach can also mean that deaf students receive different levels of access even within the same institution. 

In a decentralized system, deaf students are sometimes forced to carry additional labor as they negotiate for timely and effective access and educate others about the accommodation and funding process. This burden can be significant enough to cause students to give up, and just go without access.

When a system fails to provide equal opportunity, this may result in lawsuits and Office of Civil Rights investigations. 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.

Benefits of Centralized Systems

A campus-wide centralized system can sidestep these issues, providing appropriate oversight, streamlined policies and procedures, and the ability to plan ahead, allowing students to thrive without concerns of access barriers. Recent cases such as NAD v. Harvard and NAD v. MIT indicate a general shift towards more proactive and centralized processes.

Having streamlined procedures, policies, and practices shows a top-level commitment to access and inclusion for the entire campus.

A centralized system also allows for cost saving strategies and use of limited resources. It requires less time, expense, and effort—not just in terms of monetary costs, but also human resources. A centralized system can also make staff education more consistent and effective, and can provide quality control when arranging accommodations. 

In a centralized system, access is prioritized for the whole institution. It creates 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. This benefits not only the institution, but the deaf students, employees, faculty and guests who are then better able to leverage the programs and services offered. Campuses truly become more accessible when processes put access first and avoid putting the burden on the student.

Spotlight: McBurney Resource Center

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s McBurney Resource Center used a decentralized or hybrid approach, but found that involving several entities in the accommodation process resulted in delays and other problems. So they decided to adopt a centralized funding system instead.

McBurney reports that in the first year of the initiative, the number of requests for sign language interpreting and CART services for university events substantially increased, shattering any misconceptions that the impact of centralized funding would be minimal. The high number of requests tells a powerful story in how simplifying the request process has the potential to increase student and community engagement for a marginalized population.

OnDemand Webinar: Centralized Systems that Promote #DeafSuccess at Colleges

This presentation is designed to help higher education professionals learn more about practices to improve campus wide access for deaf students by modeling a centralized system approach. While more than 200,000 deaf students attend colleges nationwide, colleges and universities are often not prepared to support deaf students at all levels of the college experience. 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. Join the National Deaf Center and the National Association of the Deaf to learn more about strategies that your school can implement to cultivate #DeafSuccess!


Discovering System Barriers and Exploring the WHY

This is a one-hour self-paced learning module that helps you explore factors that influence postsecondary outcomes for people who are deaf. Understanding root causes is an important step for moving beyond temporary solutions to address systemic causes of educational inequities for deaf people.

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