Access for All: Twenty-Five Years after ADA, More Universities Are Unlocking Learning with Assistive Technology and Inclusive Teaching Methods

By Sturgis, Ingrid | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, March 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Access for All: Twenty-Five Years after ADA, More Universities Are Unlocking Learning with Assistive Technology and Inclusive Teaching Methods


Sturgis, Ingrid, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


WHEN HABEN GlRMA DELIVERED REMARKS AT THE WHITE HOUSE celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act last July, she spoke as the first Harvard-trained lawyer who is deaf and blind. She now works as a civil rights lawyer for the Berkeley, California-based Disability Rights Advocates. At the ceremony, she chatted with President Obama who typed his comments using a keyboard, which transmitted them to her Braille display keyboard.

Her achievements are notable against the backdrop of the ADA, which was enacted July 26, 1990. She was only 2 years old when the federal legislation designed to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities was signed into law. Since then, many colleges and universities have struggled to comply with the law. Dozens of universities have been sued or had complaints filed against them for discriminating against or failing to provide an accessible learning environment for students with disabilities. Those include Ivy League institutions, even Harvard, as well as Princeton, Yale and MIT, as well as public universities--Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State, the University of California at Berkeley and Shaw University, a historically black institution. (See list: http://www.d.umn.edu/~lcarlson/atteam/lawsuits.html.)

Other universities are breaking new ground with Universal Design for Learning tenets, being proactive, as well as providing training for faculty and staff and bringing in classroom tools and techniques that have helped all learners.

One example is Project AMP created by the University of Oregon's College of Education and led by Communication Disorders and Sciences. It is an effort to help students with hearing disabilities by encouraging professors who teach in large auditoriums with 70 or more students to use microphones during lectures. The project was developed by Karen McLaughlin, undergraduate program director, who said the effort stems from two realizations.

* One in five people over 12 years old has a hearing disability, and most lack a diagnosis because in normal situations they can hear.

* In auditoriums, sound bounces and gets lost, and students struggle to hear and understand the lecture.

"It's a really simple solution for a problem that impacts a lot of students," McLaughlin said of Project AMP--an acronym for Amplify My Professor.

"Professors don't realize it's an issue that impacts a very broad population," she said. "Such hearing losses have become more common since the introduction of the Walkman personal music player and the rise in use of personal headsets.

"Late adolescents and young adults don't realize they have hearing loss," she said. "And, a majority of them do not go through disability services to seek accommodations available to them." McLaughlin said she had a student who was deaf in one ear but didn't think an accommodation was needed.

Project AMP, which launched last fall, is being promoted via universitywide email, materials in classrooms and posters across campus. McLaughlin plans to evaluate the campaign's effectiveness at the end of the school year. Her "audacious" goal is to roll it out as a nationwide project for other student groups to bring to their universities.

Students with physical disabilities like Girma, the Harvard law graduate, and the students with hearing loss at the University of Oregon are not the largest group to receive accommodations. Today, accommodations are more likely to be used by students who have learning disabilities. Estimates are that 5 percent of college students have a learning disability, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

GAINING INDEPENDENCE

Alex Russo, 22, of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, graduated in May from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She recently finished a stint as a student teacher at Dana Street Elementary in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, part of the requirements of her teaching program. …

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